Category Archives: The World Over Time

Historical spellunking, snippets and speculations

Freedom Was That Turn We Missed – Way Way Back

I have written many times about our strange ability to pretend away the malign dominance over human affairs of the military industrial congressional investor complex, and I’ve also mentioned some of the curious ways in which technology has begun to distort human culture itself, in a worrisome oppressive and anti-humane manner.

But I don’t like simply listing concerns or just shaking a fist to make a pose. Plenty of that around anyhow, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got their own list of infuriations top of mind – especially lately.

What nobody ever seems to want to talk about in any serious way is why we in the western world, who for all our stressors are still by any objective measure the most fortunate and free numerous middle and lower classes in all of history, feel so completely powerless to do anything about our steadily degrading circumstances. As if there is no longer any hope of organization or creation, and the most we can expect of one another is infantile narcissistic whining and an occasional outburst of violent insanity.

I think I can point to something different and very very hopeful which is in no way out of our grasp – but to show what I’m on about clearly, I have to do a few more things that will sound grumpy first – please bear with me (I swear this is specific and purposeful, not frustration-porn).

When we talk about history nowadays, almost everyone can recognize there was a lot missing from the old ways of telling stories. Kings and Queens and wars and religious schisms absolutely are significant to the course of events – but so are the ways ordinary people interact and the way they feel about the world around them.

There is no one left alive who could swear to this from memory, but it is widely agreed that our modern sense of nationalism was impossible, until the invention of radio made it easy and appealing for much larger regions to identify with the same broad common narratives. Thus creating a far bigger in-group, and defining a smaller ‘them’ for that federation of formerly squabbling regions to compete against outside.

But we in the west have a tendency to talk about understanding as if it builds in a clear way and always improves at every step. This idea squares with the faith based notion of progress we are raised with, and it is flattering to our own vanity to think we know better than anyone ever has before – but I think this idea is not only wrong, but harmful to our clear perception, and outright disastrous for our understanding of history.

It seems to me that we have a certain limited amount of interest and caring we can dedicate to a number of areas of reality (and this mix often changes a lot over time). When we get especially interested in one thing (say, whales), we often develop especially stubborn ignorance about another thing, almost as if to balance it (children).

I don’t say this to be mean, nor am I without compassion for it. We are all in fact finite, we really do only have so much attention and caring, and so much time to spend on studying and responding to the world. The question to me is, how do we choose to spend that time – like petulant consumers on the sofa seeking bought gratification, or like determined (and self-authorizing, therefore unstoppable) producers of new good things and relationships in the world.

Last Few Holdouts

Now a grumpy bit – apologies to any who have heard this rant before. When I first started studying and practising yoga in the early eighties, it was mostly sweet old hippies and also rather sweet and charitable communities who wanted to share their beautiful thing with anyone open minded enough to benefit. There were some studios and some professionals, but the teaching of yoga was mostly seen as a calling or vocation, rather than a highly profitable industry. I got into Kundalini yoga, and so went to many classes taught by the 3HO group and always found their welcome and quality of energy modest and beautiful – all of which reflected extremely well on their spiritual mission (I also worked with several folks from their group years later, and they showed just as much integrity as coworkers, as they did as teachers).

Now, before anyone mistakes my gripe – I am not saying that yoga teachers no longer care, or that people shouldn’t be well paid for teaching. I’m also not saying that we should now avoid studying yoga, just because we have effectively westernized it. But I do want to ask you to think about the changes we made to its ancient established character to make it suit us better, and what those changes reveal about who we really are (as opposed to who we like to think we are).

I should also say that nineteen eighty two was not nineteen eighty seven. Our modern commercialization really began with the new age movement, and it’s hilariously narcissistic obsession with individual spiritual status, competition and one-upmanship.

As of eighty two there was no such thing as ‘yoga gear’, there was no social media to boast about your accomplishments, and most importantly, the main point of doing it was not even physical, it was to gradually and steadily work your way out of enslavement to your petty ego. Not to outright destroy your previous self, nothing so macho – just to attain a new and more measured relationship to it, by hooking yourself into a much more powerful system (universe itself).

Now we actually have yoga magazines with cover stories about getting your ‘yoga booty’ in shape for the beach – because nothing says modern western yoga more than vanity and self-absorption. (Or should we leave the word yoga out of that entirely?)

I always found Pilates a bit bothersome for making yoga techniques feel almost like a regimented calisthenic system, but physical excellence is at least a worthy goal.

Raw desire greed and glamourizing the surface self in hunger for the admiration of others though – that stuff is about as far from the still valid and precious point of yoga as it is possible to get.

The way I usually put this gripe is much simpler. If you had told me in nineteen eighty two that yoga would be wildly popular in the west in forty years, I would have been overjoyed, because if that many of us really were getting over our vanity and hooking into universe itself instead, we wouldn’t be having the ridiculous passionate two-sides-wrong fights we keep having, we wouldn’t be so proud of our lack of general compassion, we definitely wouldn’t see the whole world being upended by reckless warmongering statecraft, or millions facing immediate threat of lethal starvation while our corporate war profiteers grow fatter and more powerful than ever.

I mean that – straight up. All of our modern foolishness is supported by our own almost universal and incredibly stubborn ignorance. If we were the kind of people who were open to being changed by yoga, we could not be acting the way we are acting. What we are instead is the kind of people so riddled with insecurity and hunger for reassuring delusion, that we have changed once sacred yoga. Made it a consumer product that serves our need to feel good, rather than to steadily become better.

The strangest byproduct of this mode of thinking is the number of people who think of yoga as something they buy in the form of classes, rather than something they have decided to pursue and practise regularly. But a music student who doesn’t practise in between lessons, but only goes because they find spending time with a teacher makes them feel good, is wasting their money on lessons! (Nothing wrong with mentoring, to be clear – I think that and apprenticeship are superb ways of conveying wisdom and inspiration across generations – but we should be clear about what we seek – so we can be sensible about who we are asking to give it to us).

Imperium/Emporium

Okay so – what’s the incredibly hopeful thing we can do differently? Nothing so fancy as enlightenment. In crudest terms, we can do the world, rather than ourselves.

More specifically – think about your friends who always seem to have particular difficulty getting things together. We can all look at a whole complex of challenges which stand in our way when it comes to getting from where we are in life, to where we would like to be. And I mean this emotionally, practically, financially – however we frame our personal goals.

The thing about identifying the vast range of diffuse forces which stand is in our way is – it doesn’t change our frustrating conditions at all.

Learning a new skill, meeting new and very different people, helping someone we haven’t helped before, lending a hand in a modest way, or simply doing more of the good work we know we do best always makes a change in our conditions, because we are treating the world with more respect and offering it more – rather than just staying inside our own personal justifications of frustrations. (Again, I’m not saying these are faulty – only that they are not functional – this is a practical, not a moral point).

So what about the big picture stuff. Can we take a righteous pose, consume a few slogans and thereby achieve useful and lasting social change?

It seems pretty clear now that the slogan “defund the police” was a poor choice. Even places where this was done are now quickly undoing it, and the clearest political consequence so far is a huge election boost for representatives for the right. You tell me – are we learning anything from this, about the crucial difference between the emotions and intentions inside our heads, and the lasting repercussions and results in the real world?

With almost no money at all but tons of spirit and drive, the Black Panthers organized programs to feed poor kids every day, they set up neighbourhood clinics and organized programs to help elderly and infirm people get to doctor’s appointments and visit relatives in distant prisons. They established free education programs at odd hours so that people who worked all day, could still advance their knowledge and ambition steadily.

With millions and millions in private and corporate contributions, black lives matter has bought some choice real estate, and also helped many republicans get elected. No sign of large scale organizing of programs to feed poor kids. No early morning or night classes for struggling workers, no community support for the elderly or infirm. Crimes of the past are highlighted, but there is no sign thus far of any call for reparations for the Congo, where we all just now armed and paid the murderers of literally millions of black lives, just so we could have cheap cellphones.

But they do seem to offer the exact same giant corporations who have been deliberately chipping away at the quality and dignity of work for everyone for decades, a special moral pass in exchange for their performative recitation of the current fashionable catechism. Grotesque exploitation of workers, customers and environment is not a barrier or a serious moral problem, as long as all of those same old evil things are described henceforth only in brand new tightly constrained Orwellian language.

This is hardly the only wonky and deceitful moral measuring being popularized nowadays, the super powerful play this game too. According to the Word Economic Forum, Exxon is now officially rated as an environmental stock, and Tesla is off the list. But the transformation of an aspirational movement into a corrupt and self-serving institution has rarely been quite so whipsaw-fast as this.

Way too much like going to the teacher because they make you feel good, without even realizing that you are supposed to be learning to make your own music!

We can’t ever buy our liberation from a corporation, or a cynical corporate excusing gang like that. Liberation is something we have to DO. And it isn’t done by complaining about how the other guy lives – the point is to model a better way of doing things and then prove with our determination and skill that it actually has superior results in the real world.

Work to Do

I always thought one of the most powerful things Mark Twain ever observed was the way the riverboat captains won their powerful union. They got together and organized a series of lock boxes on every dock up and down the Mississippi (with postal quality locks – the best available) in which each captain who was in the union would leave a detailed record of all of their observations of river conditions on their trip so far, and also look at the latest notes from captains who had just passed the way that they were about to go.

Back then especially (before the army corps of engineers started messing about with it) the conditions on the Mississippi changed very fast, as sediment was moved from place to place and areas that were easily navigable one week, might be completely impassible and outright dangerous the next.

The owners of the riverboats hated the idea of the captains having a union or any clout in negotiating with their bosses at all – but they still had to get insurance for their fleets, and when the insurance industry saw how much lower the accident rate was among union captains, they soon made it unaffordable to hire anyone else!

Organization, shared skill, specific loyalty and excellence. Admittedly, we do not always see such a sweet alignment of possibilities as this, but the principle stands.

Working to demand a hostile institution do more to safeguard us from our own risks can only make us ever more dependant on them, and leave us feeling helpless and weak.

Working to create completely independent associations and institutions characterized by outstanding excellence or usefulness is a whole different play. We get stronger with every step we make (even the errors, as long as we are sincere and apolitical enough to learn from them) and we add new options for others around us also – especially that most basic inspiration we all find, whenever we see proof that the world contains a greater range of choices than we realized the day before.

Am I saying we all deserve this mess? Nope – once again (and I hope I say this as often as the also precious “Variation between individuals exceeds variation between types”) the point I am making here is not emotional moral accusatory or sanctimonious, it isn’t about finding a reason to justify living inside our anger forever, it is about not ever being stopped by it, and therefore making real things in the world around us better.

If we wait for them to sell us freedom, it will not only be a very long wait, but also a product which ultimately offers freedom only for the owning and selling class – at our expense. That’s what they do.
THERE IS NO APP FOR THIS!

But – if we finally recognize we aren’t cultural and emotional enemies – the way the rulers insist we see ourselves – but actually the most natural and inevitable practical allies in the world AGAINST THAT SAME ARISTOCRATIC MONOPOLIST CLASS – and then make solid relationships and build our own freedoms and our own better institutions for ourselves, we will be in a position to cut a completely different kind of deal with the sleazy aging and demonstrably insane owners of the modern world.

Of course, admitting we were ever wrong is emotionally hard – many prefer escapism, so we could always stick with our stubborn ignorant pride and “Stay the course” as a concession to the misery we are comfortable with – and just keep right on being both the luckiest and also the whiniest most ungrateful people on the entire planet earth.

But this is really not a great look, peeps – and even less of an answer. (I mean seriously – wouldn’t you rather go out with a pang than a whopper?)
¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Here’s a light piece I did quite awhile ago about a very early and comparatively crude intrusion of machine thinking into culture (most easily recognized by the depressingly common and objectively reasonable question – “why does so much modern music suck so bad in exactly the same way?”)

Pin the freakin’ meters.



And here’s someone who many of us have found to be rare wise calm counsel through the covid panic, very simply proving his profound humane integrity by being aware enough about the world to say, “No actually, what we should all really be concerned about is famine.”


Not Opposites – Duplicates

The self-designating popular groupings which now call themselves “left” and “right” are beyond incoherent. No unified vision, understanding, principle or program in sight. This sad reality has already been quite conclusively proven to anyone eccentric and determined enough to insist upon reading about the world from diverse viewpoints. Willful and dangerous misunderstanding of others is now outright fashionable (in every camp). The dominant modern ‘house style’ you might even say.

We are all constantly bombarded with “Straw Man” arguments, when an excitable idiot tells you a dishonest version of their opponent’s views, and then refutes their opponent solely on the basis of their own dishonesty. Sickening.

Recently I’ve seen more and more people calling for “Steel Man” arguments instead, which means I finally have a handy term for something I have insisted on (and found supremely useful) for a few decades now. Not going after an opponent where they are weakest, but instead taking on the strongest best and most useful parts of their thought. That is, showing some basic respect.

Why do this? Isn’t the point of an argument to win? Only for a juvenile idiot.

I know there are a lot of ways to frame an idea this big, and I strongly defend the value of allowing for multiple viewpoints and attitudes. But that still doesn’t make our dumb craze for absolute and unlimited relativism (that is, utter pointlessness) any kind of a foundation for happiness, understanding or effective action.

As far as I can tell, the point of life is to be as capable and happy as we can – which means steadily improving our understanding awareness and skills as we go, so we can become more and more useful to the people around us.

I’m being both general and specific at the same time here. People define happiness many different ways, but whether it means having healthy resilient kids who respect you enough that they want you in your grandkid’s lives, or making a huge pile of money so you can treat your pals to luxury, we do not ever get serious value from the world without offering it something it wants.

So no – the point is not to win arguments, the point is to keep getting smarter, stronger, kinder and wiser (more useful on all fronts) and this means being not only willing but quite happy to lose any argument where you encounter a better idea. This is an incredibly rare approach nowadays, but it still holds up.

In fact, if we think it through we soon realize that any other approach means we have decided in advance to support some foolishness and stupidity for reasons which have nothing to do with its validity. That is, no common measure of value.

This idea – I knowingly choose to support errors indefinitely for emotional reasons – is a pretty clear, because strictly functional, definition of tribalism.

What does the other way look like? There are several important distinctions, but the biggest are that it acts less like a brat, and it has deeper friendships based on shared aspiration, instead of shared anger (cross training our best selves with others, instead of helping one another stay mired in pain or resentment forever).

Now here’s the important bit that all tribalists get wrong – their go-to technique for recovering self-sabotaging ignorance, right on the edge of new understanding.

YES FRUSTRATION IS LEGITIMATE. Anyone who believes that there is any large class of people who have nothing at all to complain about right now is ignorant. Simple as that. If they are young, this is entirely forgivable (but we want a word with their teachers), if they are not young, we can’t help recognizing that this ignorance is the consequence of choices they have made, to deliberately withhold their humane compassion, based upon a notion about the moral value of a general category.

This is called bigotry – and it is wildly popular on both the left and the right. Absolute shite in all cases too, whatever the target.

We should remember that public hangings and burnings of heretics used to be incredibly popular events. There were plenty of merchants with souvenirs, snacks and drinks on offer – a genuine festival air. Hooray, we can all hate together today – what could possibly be more fun – or a better social bonding experience?

I mentioned before that Jane Goodall strikes me as a heroic humanist and scientist because she spent years as a humanist trying to refute her findings that higher primates in the wild regularly engaged in warfare against neighbouring groups, hoping that the results were due to contamination from the study itself, or something artificial about the conditions she was observing.

Those years of hard effort at self skepticism on principle were impressive – but she became a truly heroic scientist when she finally did publish her findings – even though they upset centuries of (racist) ‘sweet-savage’ romanticism – and her own strong philosophical and emotional preferences. No, capitalism doesn’t make otherwise entirely innocent humans go to war – though it absolutely does love to make tons of money, every time industrial killing can be promoted – we moderns just really like to do both war and greed in combination.

What we wish is a sort of creative imagining at best. A ghost which we feel strongly about, but isn’t even fully resolved inside our own head – and gets vaguer with every pass-along generation until the replicated errors overwhelm the original message.

What is true can be shared with everyone, because it is just as true for them, every time they check for themselves.

I wonder – did the Enquirer ever run a quiz “What Late Night Show you enjoy most, reveals your secret inner personality”

When I first moved out at age twelve, I found an old black and white tube TV in the garbage – actually I found two, but managed to get one of them working pretty well, only after I spot-welded my favourite screwdriver to the better candidate by arc-ing the flyback transformer! (Hey, what’s 20KV between friends, right? Answer in this case? EDUCATIONAL!) ;o)

Next thing I did was take my newspaper route profits (all eighty one cents an hour of them, by my calculations) and head to Radio Shack! An affordable and reliable stop for all kinds of electronic parts and tools – a genuine geeks wonderland in fact – very much missed (and like the even longer ago lost Heathkit, a para educational support of enormously unappreciated value).

Of course they had plenty of antennas on offer, and I had already got some results from a cheap FM dipole (that old “flat, two-wire T” we all used to tape to the wall behind the stereo), but I was big on calculating value/per back then, so when I saw they sold fifty foot spools of that same flat wire, I could not resist. I made a giant antenna around all four walls of the bedroom I shared with my roommate, and the two of us felt incredibly decadent watching Buffalo TV every night without any cable bill, and especially sophisticated for watching Carson.

Back then (mid seventies) Johnny Carson’s show pulled in a huge unified audience – left and right, upscale and working class. He had something to please everyone. Celebrities raised their profile and his ratings at the same time, and many comedians and musicians had their careers officially ‘made’ by a successful appearance on his very carefully mass market show.

Nothing like that show now exists on television. Some sports do still draw fairly wide groups together, but the conversation and exchange there tends to be rather limited. Structured in advance, like the rules of the game itself.

I saw an interview with Carson once where he talked about how his monologue jokes had to change over the years. He said when he started out he could make a joke about the minority whip in the senate, and everyone would get it and laugh, because people were actively interested in how they were governed, and who exactly was doing what to (or for) them. Engaged citizens.

By the time he wound up his show, the writers weren’t even sure they could rely on people remembering who the last president was.

Now here’s something weird. Looking back on reruns of his show today, I can’t stand it! So much of it feels fake and shallow, and you can tell that Ed and Johnny really did not like each other very much. There were many great performances, to be sure, but a lot less great talk than my childhood mind was sure it remembered. To a modern eye, the many compromises made to stay firmly in the centre and hold an “Everyone” audience look like intolerable concessions to mediocrity.

But what happened when the audience started to split apart? When, over time, the institutions which were once mass market broadcasters became target-market narrowcasters instead (quite deliberately, to chase the best possible rate of return they could see in the numbers). We stopped having hosts who seem pleasant but fake to everyone, and started having people we felt represented us better (more flatteringly). And these appealing new post-middle hosts in turn, began to welcome not equally respected guests, but instead friends and enemies.

I have to confess that I hate Jay Leno with a special passion. I want to say I hate him because he single-handedly damaged the stand up comedy ecosystem, and made it much harder for new comics starting out – which is true – but the fact is, I found out that deplorable stuff about his early career only because I already hated him, and was curious if I could find a better than emotional reason, to back me up.

What I hated about his TV act was that he spent all of his time sneering at anyone younger than a boomer. “Ha ha, those stupid whiners, when we were kids we only had…” constantly showing complete contempt to others, and celebrating that contempt with his audience. To me, I always thought about all the child abusing boomers I knew laughing in delight – and how much they all needed crowbar dentistry.

What do kids have to complain about anyhow – crazy rents, no more careers, no more pensions, no hope of job or housing security, lousy and horribly overpriced education leading to debt for life, a massive infrastructure deficit (thanks to boomers voting to make everything someone else’s problem) and a collapsing environment. Stupid spoiled ungrateful whiners obviously, right?

Pretty much borderline sociopathy really – every night – and it not only made him obscenely rich, it made sneering the new gold standard model.

Of course the big broadcasters have completely lost their old audience dominance, but we still very happily sort ourselves into cultural groups based upon who sneers in a way we find most appealing – never stopping to wonder if we aren’t being the whiny brats ourselves!

“People who I have chosen not to care about shouldn’t complain,” is clearly something only an asshole can say repeatedly. When they say it with a great big self-satisfied smile, they are a delusional and quite possibly even a dangerous asshole, because they are inviting us to celebrate the very worst instincts built-in to our basic selves (evil capacities shared also with chimpanzees at their worst).

Anyhow, the statement itself is a complaint of the most ignorant and hostile sort. An example of what it pretends to be refuting.

I’m not sure who first said “The opposite of a petty truth is false, but the opposite of a great truth is also true” but it really works here especially well, because the fact is that gratitude is ESSENTIAL TO LIFE. Unless you actually want to be bitter cruel and unhappy every hour day and year until you die.

The trick is that you don’t ever prove your own gratitude, or loyalty, or goodness, or helpfulness (or rightness, or social-justitude) by denouncing the failings of others. You do it by living a positive example of your own gratitude (etc) – or you do not ever in any way do it.

Our opinions, our feelings (no matter how passionate) our approvals, celebrations and withholdings – these happen only as movies projected on the inside of our skulls – that is not the world, that is the small blurry window we view it from – and we can make this window clearer and bigger.

But only if we are trying to be smarter, stronger, more capable, kinder, wiser and better – all of which are the exact opposite of trying to stay angry, to win every fight (even where we have encountered better information than we had – which means defending our ignorance) to sneer at people about whom we are largely ignorant, and insist that their needs cannot possibly be valid compared to those of special tribe B.

Like I said at the opening – less like a sneering narcissistic overgrown brat, more like a striving, modest, open, curious and helpful adult.

I must fairly allow that all of the comforting majorities are still to be found in the land of the miserable rabid overgrown infantile – you can even pick your favourite flavour from a vast array, to best suit your own personal snark aesthetics. But despite all the difficulty involved in shucking-off the truly heavy and persistent yoke of tribalist acculturation, I swear that genuine old-fashioned laughs, loyalty and love are all more easily found and fully enjoyed on the other (out) side of those blindingly tall and depressingly grey, self-constructed prison walls of sneering-brat dogma.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯


And now once again – here are a couple of incredibly brilliant people making far bigger points, much better than I do (or could)! ;o)


Caitlin Johnstone is a brilliant social and political critic – scathing and courageous – but offending only to increase clarity, not ever for cheap-shot catharsis.
Her Substack posts are always smart, challenging, informed and even when you disagree – stimulating! A fantastic antidote for “I just read what they put in front of me” journalism, and the corporate experts they rely (if not dote) on, constantly spinning everything their way.

People Who Defend Empire Narratives Are Really Just Defending Their Worldview From Destruction


Matt Taibbi is not just fearless but funny! You would want to compare him to Hunter Thompson anyhow, even if he hadn’t held that manic great’s job as chief investigative reporter at Rolling Stone for many years. Since he’s gone independent, he seems to be taking on bigger and bigger targets, and having more and more fun doing it. A great exemplar for the lift we get, when we shuck the tribalist leash.

Bush is Biden is Bush – Matt Taibbi (at Scheerpost) – but check his Substack also

Blessed are the Tinkers (damn)

(plumbers, technicians, mechanics, contractors and all reality-based retail service workers too)

I am a book nut with a lifelong passion for music, visual art and writing – essentially creative and romantic by nature. But I am also a guy who had zero formal education except for two stints at trade school (George Brown community college). I took a ten month course to become an audio electronics repairman, and then did another four months a few years later to add video gear to my repertoire. Got two decades of decent work from that debt-free education (an unheard of ratio nowadays).

This was back in 1987, which was a very interesting time to become a technician. There was a huge debate about whether CDs would really catch on, or consumers would move directly to digital DAT tape – and DAT would almost certainly have been adopted very quickly, but for massive pressure from the recording industry (then still politically powerful to the point of sector dominance). Consumer preference was effectively thwarted by US federal legislation (though not in Japan, where DAT was adopted widely and kept developing – which lowered the cost and helped legions of budget recordists here quite a bit, even if our consumer markets never saw much of it).

More important than this brand new stuff was that 1987 was long enough ago that the old stuff still hadn’t quite died out. I was fortunate and apprenticed at a small audiophile repair shop which didn’t limit itself to safe, standard or easy jobs. Some days I’d have a four thousand dollar CD player on my bench with a maglev motor for the laser-sled, followed by an old ‘five tube’ wooden cabinet radio from the nineteen thirties, with a Nakamichi Dragon waiting for me after lunch (and SL1200 turntables never-ending – still a DJ workhorse to this day).

I’m one of those people who is happiest when there is always something new to learn. That work was very satisfying to me for two main reasons – every fault is somewhere between a detective case and an algebra problem, calling for clever deduction from limited information. You don’t always even know exactly how the broken thing is supposed to work – you have only the non-functional version for clues – but somehow you have to find the culprit (or conspiracy of bad components) and raise the community of components around them back to full function with the least invasive – or the most practical and reliable – means (whichever best balances cost and future reliability).

The other endlessly fascinating challenge was psychological. I was beyond clueless about how to interact in normal ways when I first broke free from the commune at sixteen, and spending years as an overt visual freak (New Romantic then – now roughly subsumed as a subset of ‘Goth’) helped me learn a great deal about ‘in and out tribes’ and also about how to stand up for yourself even if you enter every (non dance-club) situation at a disadvantage.

But I became a tech not in the middle of teenage insecurity, but as a hopeful and increasingly confident young married man in his early twenties. It only took a few weeks for me to realize that for anyone curious enough, this sort of slower paced retail work presents us with a superb laboratory for learning about the extraordinary range of variation between humans and their dazzlingly widely sourced views.

I mention the brilliant French concept of “Professional Deformation” often, not to make people feel bad, but because my working life has taken me into so many different realms of situational groupthink, retail and academe in particular, and I can almost always see important insights which are common in one broad area of experience, are badly lacking elsewhere.

Some kinds of work sort for very specific types in a way people don’t easily recognize – a professor almost never understands how many stupid people there are by percentage, for example, because they spend their entire lives concentrating on the exceptional at the other end of the spectrum.

But in retail and service work of almost any kind, you encounter pretty much all of humanity. Everyone has a toilet (and back then, a stereo or radio which was made to be repairable, and usually worth repairing). What retail really means is that anyone who walks in off the street gets your time.

Working at a shop that did audiophile gear, but was also surrounded by a lot of entrenched poverty back then (Queen W near Bathurst), I had to find ways to respond to and engage elitists with wild self-congratulatory fantasies of impossible audio perfection, and also help desperate and paranoid hard luck cases – and both groups can very easily turn their whole life’s worth of upset on you, if you dare to disrupt the fantastic or paranoid assumptions they had, coming in.

Problem is, as a service professional, you simply cannot ever offer a service which is impossible, no matter how passionately (and frequently) this is demanded – so the job absolutely requires you to destroy illusions which people rather like, all day long. Learning to do this in a way which was both honest and compassionate, so I could maintain professional integrity, represent their actual interests more fully than their fantasies, but still have them leave feeling I was on their side, was the careful work of many years. Bedside manner masterclass, really.

Years later, in a much busier repair shop, I got my communication skills to the point where I would volunteer to take angry customers from other technicians, and talk them ’round to understanding we actually were on their side. (Not ever by lying, just by taking the time and care to understand the precise point where their technical misunderstanding was damaging our mutual respect). Being able to ‘reach understanding’ with almost any type, despite their state of high stress and suspicion, might just be the rarest skill I ever developed. Probably should have gone into mediation or the law. ;o)

By the mid nineties, things in the world of gear were already beginning to change in a way which was worrisome. More and more equipment was being manufactured by entirely robotic factories, in a minimum-everything way which made it impossible to repair cost-effectively. Worse still, a whole new class of equipment was being offered (in visual scanning and photographic gear also) to the newly crowned “Pro-Sumer.”

As a book guy, I have to stop here and say I deeply adore Sumer – the historical culture has inspired me ever since I was a kid and read “History begins at Sumer” which contained translations of many of humanity’s earliest literary masterworks. In that one specific sense I will always be pro-Sumer.

But as for ProSumer as a marketing demographic? AAAARG! The whole idea of ProSumer is to tell amateurs that they aren’t really, then offer them luxuriously functional equipment which is well beyond their creative abilities (but now had suddenly come within range of their price-point, thanks to mass robotic manufacture).

Of course I am an advocate for art, and I absolutely love the idea of more people having great art tools – IF ART IS WHAT WE GET. But it really hasn’t worked out that way for us over the last quarter century, and it feels as if there is probably a clue to bigger problems in here someplace.

The trouble with “the ProSumer” is not that better gear is now far more widely available (and truly professional gear even rarer and more expensive than ever), but rather that respect for expertise in general is being diluted by a huge boost to our (already dangerously overblown) narcissism. It might be a whole lot of fun if we could run an entire economy by everyone making shitty watercolours and selling them to the person on their left – but genuine masterworks are not ever made that way.

The dangerous flattery inside ProSumerism is the idea that the intentions of an ignorant marketing-flattered fantasist are of the same quality and usefulness as the intentions of someone who understands the real tested and established parameters involved.

This equivalence is not so, has not ever been, and will not ever be. Yes, fully open and unbiased ‘child mind’ is a lovely idealistic goal to work toward for mature creatives – but this stage comes AFTER we have worked to earn mastery of the skills and knowledge demanded for high craft, and can now turn our attention back to re-invigorating the magic which set us out on the long path in the first place.

Alien Hobo Code?

We don’t just wing-it with the plumbing and the wiring in our house, because we don’t want fires or floods (or unaffordable insurance). But we do enter into funny circles of mutual fan-dom (and social media has boosted this effect many times over), and by turning culture into a game of “I like you too,” we have, as a society, largely withdrawn our attention (and our all-important money) from the production of brilliantly accomplished general culture for everyone.

I have been amused by how often I have seen proof that technicians treat their equipment differently from a less well informed ‘user’. Of course they want all the same functionality, but they seek it in ways which are fundamentally sympathetic to the realities of the underlying machine. (Any expert auto mechanics among my friends? I’d love to know if you think this mechanically sympathetic effect applies just as truly to driving).

I also feel incredible sympathy for my friends who are still in retail and service, because it is much harder than ever to convince people who are emotionally committed to their entry fantasies that you have effective command of the suite of realities and skills which they most certainly require, in order to solve their particular problem – and that these informed insights strongly suggest an approach very different from their emotional preference.

A hobby gardener might be sad if their petunias wilt, might even consider themselves a ProSumer if they win a prize at the fair a time or two – but they aren’t going to be destroyed if they get it wrong. A farmer has to care about every single factor they can control, and also study every single one of the realities which they cannot. Otherwise their entire lives can be utterly destroyed in a single disastrous season. There is simply no equivalence between seeking vanity and achieving survival.

Will we ever return to a world in which people (at least sometimes) humbly recognize the difference between their areas of knowledge and their ignorant self-flattering fantasies? I honestly doubt it. The downside effects of our communications technology are emboldening idiots of every kind, everywhere (mostly for sales purposes) and corroding institutions and elites at a pretty furious rate (sometimes for the self-evident betterment of all, and sometimes to our vast mutual shame).

But we can certainly do one small life-hack sort of thing which would help ourselves and those we deal with humanize our daily lives a lot. We can LISTEN!

Things which are beyond of our grasp are not ever what we think dream or hope they will be. People who do understand what they really are can help us, but not until we understand our wishing and wanting is less important than the reality of the problem we want their help or expertise to solve.

Retail workers, service people, technicians, mechanics, plumbers, they are all ready to be our allies when it comes to dealing with life’s many unexpected and challenging curveballs.

Of course, if we choose to enter not by respectfully asking for help, but sneeringly, hostile and full of ignorant confidence, we are extremely unlikely ever to notice that positive potential at all! (It really is very strictly and justly reserved for people who prove they are NOT asshole customers).

Every time Catherine and I go into a restaurant, we remember being restaurant workers, same with every shop and trade – whether or not we have direct experience, we always bring respect.

In fact, I’m still trying to figure out just what one is supposed to be able to save or gain by so easily and often discarding civility and respect – can you actually have too many hard working local people who are always glad to see you? Is that even a thing?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Here are a couple of obscenely brilliant people with much bigger ideas than I, which nevertheless seem somehow related.


Ted Gioia is a brilliant music critic who is also extremely insightful about industry realities and financial shenanigans – a vanishingly rare (and wonderfully informative) combination.

His piece “14 Warning Signs You Are Living In A Society Without A Counterculture” helped inspire my meanderings today – but you should read much more of his stuff too! (See above link).


And if you love making or just deeply appreciating music, Rick Beato’s superb Youtube channel should be on your list of regular stops. He is an absolute keener about music, which means he sometimes rants brilliantly, and sometimes does reverent (and no less insightful) tributes to, and even interviews with truly extraordinary greats of music (check out his interview with Pat Metheny, or his review of all time great singer songwriter pieces, to get an idea of his delicious scope).

But most of all check out his interview with Ted Gioia (from above) about the state of the now utterly crazy music industry!

Finally, if you want a fun rant – you could do a whole lot worse than “Compared to Bach, we all suck!”

My Oracle

Too Clever by Multiples (top image)

I am a little bit nuts and have never denied it, so I expect today’s especially elaborate (and hopefully amusing) proof of that will come as no surprise to anyone. On the other hand, I am curious in a way which is unusual enough to have made me a little bit lonely for an awfully long time. I love to search for proof that I’m wrong, and delight when I find it, where a great many, especially nowadays, seem certain that reason is designed entirely to bolster an already arrived at (and one presumes, immaculate) rightness.

I’m not trying to be a jerk here, just point out how hard it is for weirdos to be understood for what they actually mean (and I know more than one of my chums can relate to this). The thing which balances my compulsion to smash my own assumptions constantly is my absolute joy about discovery, play, learning and creation – all very much related, though the ideal mix of these varies a lot, depending on what sort of results we’re seeking.

One of the reasons I’ve always had especially strong friendships with women, is that men often take my enthusiasms as some kind of competitive assertion they must agressively answer, where women far more easily see I’m just plain excited, dying to share the joy-glow of it – no put down in sight, implied or involved!

We really do make the world we live in by how we see and interact with it – and I honestly feel bad that so many guys still deny themselves access to the fun of easy sharing, as opposed to other-defeating competitive play. Mind you, competition is great stuff where it works. I’m not against it, I’m just against failing to see it as a choice (and a matter of self-imposed limits on connection and cooperation, just as much as an advance in other-tested gains).

When I first broke free of the crazy cult/commune in which I was raised I was ravenous for new tools with which to understand. In effect, I was raised with a complete seamless cosmology, which was faithfully reflected back to me by absolutely everyone I knew, and then was shocked to discover that worldview was shared by approximately no one at all in the ‘real’ world.

I have several friends who were raised in Mormonism and in Scientology who seem to have experienced similarly upending culture shock, when first encountering their own consensus culture without the filters they were raised inside. In a way it makes you feel like an alien, exactly where everyone expects you are most easy and at home – but it’s also an important gift, because it forces you to ask a lot of questions everyone else assumes are settled answers, or worse, doesn’t even notice at all, to wonder about.

There was a whole lot of reading which helped me in this period. Idries Shah and Robert Anton Wilson were especially nutritious (and The Book of the Tao an ever astonishing wellspring), but I also have to mention the practise of yoga, which I did a bit as a kid, but took far more seriously as a teenager who wasn’t quite sure who and what he was. To this day, no single change in approach to my life has done more for my mental health – physical also, no question – but the tools it gave me to deal with my physical reactions to emotional situations were the most precious of all.

I was also reading voraciously in this period, with a special emphasis on psychology, mysticism, spirituality and paradigms which were about embracing entire ranges, rather than dissection and reductionism – (an emphasis which is perhaps the funny equivalent in western thought, to that ‘always competitive’ thinking-limitation which many might now call patriarchal.)

Now I can’t help but pull out one of the most useless references in all of history – the unique (and boy did he want you to know it) Aleister Crowley! I call him useless and invoke him anyhow, because for me personally, he dropped a few precious clues, and also did much less than his usual damage (that is, I did read his book about yoga seriously, but did not get sucked into the incantation stuff in his other books – which isn’t really anything but dangerous to a lusty and undisciplined teenage mind anyhow).

The reasons “Uncle Al” is useless as a reference are also funny. He lied about himself in a loud and public way constantly, throughout his life. His enemies and his supporters also perpetuated their own myths aplenty, he wrote books portraying himself as a scoundrel, an individualist hero and a mage. He might even be seen as the modern prototype of a truly media savvy self-inventor and self-promoter. The Alchemist Kardashian!

All that myth makes the man himself very difficult to find underneath – and mostly not worth the effort anyhow. Much like existentialism, which has an immediate hit of intellectual appeal on our first encounter with it – the maniacal devotees and obsessives we encounter as we enquire further, quickly warn us off this turf. Here be dragons!

Aside from his excellent compact book of essays on yoga, I got a few very useful simple ideas from Crowley via Wilson, one of his kindest interpreters. One was the connection between our aims and our training discipline. He insisted that if you wanted to do something genuinely challenging in your life, you ought to train yourself for high fitness and also unusual levels of mental discipline.

This outright romantic but no less productive idea not only helped me practise yoga more diligently (and thus stumble into the unexpected mental-health benefits), it also gave me a lot of courage when I was playing improvised music with guys who were decades older than me and infinitely more skillful. I trained myself for taking risk fearlessly, and that musical nerve has served me well in many places over the years, even though I feel guilty I have not given more of my time to music over those same years, to thank it better for what it keeps giving me.

The other idea I got from Crowley indirectly was summarized by one of his own silly poems.

“I place no reliance on virgin or pigeon. My method is science, my aim is religion”

I could digress and find about a hundred things wrong with his presumptions there, I’m sure you can see many yourself. But I still like the idea of not just accepting with uncritical belief, but instead testing things out experimentally as objectively as we can, to see which seem to have what particular power or potential, and which place somewhere along the pure-belief/placebo axis. But to be clear, I do not mean to invoke customary western scorn when I use the word placebo. Placebos have not only been shown to be extremely effective in many cases, even if powered by nothing but false belief – their effectiveness has been studied carefully, and is steadily increasing, year after year. Both of these insights seem useful and revealing, in that very tricky category of – what we really are – as opposed to – what we like to think we are.

I should stop to add that I remain an atheist, just as I started out – but I have had several very meaningful experiences over the decades which can not be explained by current science.

I am frequently foolish, heedless and silly, but I am definitely not the willfully self-harming kind of atheist who is so dedicated to their ego that they will discard the reverberating magic the universe offers them, just because it doesn’t happen to fit their preferred schema for rhetorical competition and sparring. To me, that pretty much defines arrogance.

Anyhow, what with meditating and doing tons of yoga, reading a lot about mysticism and conducting my own eccentric (that is, dangerously unguided, but luckily still highly productive) experiments, in which I was both observer and subject, I got the idea that I ought to be able to design an interesting experiment around the ancient traditions of divination.

This was not meant as an insult to any existing tradition on earth – quite the opposite. Rather than insult such a great tradition with my own imbecilic experimental blundering, I thought it only proper that I should draw my system from resources I was personally familiar with, and those means only. (also another chance for my deep wisdom to enter the mix, in my creative choices).

The result (after quite a bit too much thought about the whole thing) was PREDICTO – the system with which I lead this piece. We’ve got a bit of D and D influence (I’ve always got tons of dice in the house, yarrow sticks not so much), a number of ideas about knowledge classification which go back to Bacon, some (of course crude) insights about psychology, all overlaid atop a divination system based upon binary rolls to generate hexadecimal characters for further (arithmetic) transmutation, and of course the infinite mysteries of the mighty ETAOIN SHRDLU!

For the sake of whimsical hyperbole I added two dimensions more than the Buddhists’ (always wonderful) octave eight, and anyhow on a technical (game design) level, I needed to arrive at two to the tenth power, or else forgo the joys of “full F” with the hexadecimal. (dare I here invoke Hunter Thompson?)  “…which would have been a fatal equivocation.” ;o)

How does PREDICTO work in practise? Let me put it this way, if you set up a tent at a fair, they would be yelling at you long before you finished the rolling and the math – every single time!

Even I don’t like it – though it still makes me laugh to consider it, which is one precious empirical value we can sometimes salvage even from the most wasteful or foolish misstep.

Still, even as a failed experiment it was very productive. Made me ask myself again more seriously (and pardon the game-design head with which I approached the question) “What exactly are the victory conditions here?”

The question I really wanted to explore with my experiment was – could I devise a personal system which helped my conscious mind access some of my deeper, much harder to access wisdom?

By the time I had the giant layer cake of complexity I called PREDICTO finished, I realized that almost everything I had added trying to give it richness and subtlety, actually just made it clunkier and less open to the almost always teasingly vague offerings of my sub and unconscious.

What I really needed for my second experiment was something dead simple, portable and nimble as could be, which still invoked some decision mechanism beyond my own personal conscious control.

Which brings me at last to the self invented Oracle which I actually do use every day, exactly once a day, and have found useful, stimulating and amusing for many years in a row now. Fun, too.

 

Sikorsky S 42 – photo by Robert O’Rourke (my grandfather)

The technical mechanism and schema for this approach are available to anyone who is reading this. You obviously have a computer. Somewhere on your computer there is a folder full of pictures which you like to look at for no particular reason except that they give you a particular kind of smile or lift. Within that big set of smiles, some are most special and distinct.

I use my folder full of pictures of vintage aircraft, which contains thousands of images I found once, but wasn’t sure I’d ever find again – always best to grab the reference in front of you, before it turns back into a chimera or a rumour! I run a random slideshow on this big folder, then I simply count images until I get to an exterior shot of a Sikorsky flying boat from the nineteen thirties (just before he and his company became obsessed with helicopters). When I see that classic flying boat I stop, I now have my number.

This number is my Oracle’s official answer to whatever question I posed just before the random slideshow.

Now comes the fun – interpreting the meaning of that number – a vagueness designed to allow my deeper wisdom plenty of extra chances to offer me insight, as my creative mind goes to work trying to make that number mean something both catchy and specific, with respect to my question.

Before you roll your eyes, I don’t want to sound utterly wishy-washy here, there are quite a few fixed goalposts in the system, and now and then another presents itself as retroactively obvious and is added forevermore – but we must allow that compared to all possible whole numbers in a random series, the major arcana is a very compact set indeed. ;o)

Six is Si (yes), Nine is just as clearly Nein! Three is Tri “Try”, Eight is “Harmonious” (again the lovely octave). Five is “Clearly” from radio-talk “Five by five”. Two is too (also) which makes thirty-two “Try to” and thirty-nine “Try no”.  Four gets a question mark right after to make it serve as “For?” (“cui bono”, for the bookish). Eleven is “Extremely” (as in “this one goes to eleven”). And twelve cannot possibly be anything but “Doesn’t” (from dozen). I even have an equivalent to the death card in the tarot deck (with the important shared quality that it also actually means radical disruptive change, more than outright mortality) for which I could not resist adopting Robert Anton Wilson’s ever so useful (and repeatedly observed as arbitrary) twenty-three! (Or forty six, if you asked two very stupid ‘what if?’ questions at once, which I often do). ;o)

So now the challenging phase – what do I do when my Oracle gives me an answer which bothers me a lot? I ask myself if I’m just being defensive, or if I really do feel sure the answer it gave me is wrong, and then I ask why I’m sure. Which means that even when I disagree with and ultimately reject the Oracle’s latest reply, I have nevertheless done a self-doubting reference check and invited some re-thinking for one of my more emotionally loaded (that is, more illusion-prone) concerns of that particular day.

Which really is an altogether excellent exercise – a practise of leavening-whimsy also – plus, wacky old-time flying boats! How can you not giggle with glee?

(Itself a tested and proven-excellent exercise).

¯\_()_/¯

 

Memory is just about illegal

Hello my far flung and wonderfully wide-ranging friends, new and old, and hello to my somewhat grumpier listeners also – I sincerely hope this podcast will surprise you with new perspectives, unexpected fair mindedness and interesting insights, despite my unapologetically strong (and suddenly weirdly unpopular) anti-war opinions.

I was already well into the writing of this episode when the anniversary of my two year ago episode “Upright Wobblies and Low-Down Commies” came up on facebook.  These two should pair well, since that one talked about the earlier twentieth century, and this one takes us on a tour from Reagan to now – with, as usual, several eccentric but I think important stops along the way. 

As all too often lately, the big hug for this episode is really the feeling that you aren’t the only one questioning the official story. This was one of the key consolations I was always hoping to offer with this series, but I swear I have always got more episodes about pure uplift in the works than pieces with these harder truths to deliver.

But even though I try not to tie my pieces to current events, the robbery of context and memory can be too dramatic to responsibly ignore. I know it feels to many as if we’ve been living through an endless (and cumulative) series of panicking crises for five straight years now. I often feel that way too, and know that knowledge and open inquiry alone aren’t enough to get us through.

Promise I’ll add something to the whimsy, wonder and giggles pile again, soon. (Absolute metabolic necessity)





For anyone else who is pocasting or recording lectures or narration, I should pass on that the combination of the Schepps Omni Channel and the PuigTech 570 (Fairchild copy) compressor as a drop-in module, make a ‘radio sound’ much easier to dial in (and finally give me precision ‘de-essing’ though I admit I’m a total noob at proper calibration).

Some Waves plug-ins make my ten year old computer creak and stutter, but these are smooth (and Schepps Omni will definitely remind any X-er of the Tascam gear they desperately wanted as a teenager, and probably charm them even now) ;o)

Finally, here is a bunch of serious stuff that you definitely shouldn’t read and or watch, and if you do, you shouldn’t think about or remember it. You know how thought-police work, right? The less you know, the less you can say when they finally drag you in.

If you’re still not entirely comfortable with the Orwellian world we seem to be designing and demanding for ourselves, you’ll get some laughs and again get that crucial big hug of knowing you are not nearly so alone as it can sometimes feel.

Yikes though, I apologize in advance, okay? For mental safety reasons, please be sure to book a visit with a dolphin, a puppy and a kitten, immediately afterward.

(You think I’m kidding, don’t you?)

¯\_()_/¯



Russell Brand – offers us good questions and winning exuberance (and I’m a hard sell). He’s taking a lot of heat now, because he’s interested in all sides, and heterodox voices, his whole cause is finding a dialogue so we can make genuine social progress. Which to some now makes him a right winger (which accusation he answers himself quite hilariously, below the first quite interesting post).

“We’re not allowed to talk about this”

“So I’m a right winger now, am I?”



CTV is the straightest of the straight when it comes to Canadian news. Hard-core middle, and even they can’t ignore the questions any more.

Mounting questions about the Canadian Army training Ukrainian extremists



Matt Taibbi is a thing of beauty. A gifted writer who, like Hunter Thompson, can often find a hilarious way to put an incredibly depressing truth, without losing the essential quality of the insight and especially the key drama, in the process. America is very lucky to have this guy (and he is very lucky to have Substack – but Scheerpost is a great place to encounter many smart outsider voices gathered and without a paywall!)

America’s intellectual No-fly Zone



Aaron Mate is, like Taibbi, a genuinely independent investigative journalist in a time when these have almost all been domesticated and brought into harness, or else exiled to the fringe wilderness.

Siding With Ukraine’s Far-Right, US Sabotaged Zelensky’s Peace Mandate



Here’s a piece about that disgusting Nuland phone call from Reuters (no doubtowned stooges of Moscow’ – and retroactively, no less – since they published this story eight freakin’ years ago!)

Also kind of barfy-hilarious to note this detail – who exactly was doing the double-speak backpedalling for former Darth Vader advisor Victoria Nuland at that time? None other than our dear sweet friend Jen Psaki! (like I say, it is all so damn incestuous, nauseating and creepy!)



Here’s the BBCs version of the transcript of that conversation, with some commentary added.

Pretty much absolutely yikes, right?

Dolphin, puppy, kitten – you get it now, don’t you?

¯\_()_/¯

Right In Mid-Guffaw

Hey, what do you know? Right in the middle of an unwholesome national festival of Schadenfreude (pleasure in other people’s suffering) about our neighbours’ absolutely insane, and yet also hilariously pathetic politics, Canada up and finds a way to prove that politically, it is just as deeply and fundamentally screwed up. Who knew? Well, actually, more of us than you might suspect, and for a whole bunch of reasons. I’m going to make an attempt to dig into a few of them today. My American friends already know that I take informed and yet also uncompromising shots about the policies of their government which do great damage. Principle absolutely requires I am at least as clear about stupidity and craziness on my home turf.

My favourite thing about social media is that I have made so many friends overseas, that I now write to more people elsewhere than near. I’ve always been very interested in the world anyhow, but just as with learning a new language, nothing makes you reconsider your own lazy assumptions better than having to explain them to someone who doesn’t already have them! (That is, hasn’t had them stealthily installed by simple acculturation). And yes, this principle applies just as well to our modern crisis of willful mutual unhearing between tribes, as it does to separation by culture and or distance.

So – here’s a quick national review for those from elsewhere, because you will almost never read any stories about Canada which reflect the whole – since ninety-nine percent of journalists who write about Canada from here or abroad, even the best of them, belong to the same smug and spoiled upper middle class clique.

Some cynical wisemen will tell you that the worst things about Canada are our smugness and hypocrisy – but while these are indeed both common faults, you are already being lied to. The self-designated wits who say stuff like this are actually completely convinced that that their smug tribe (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal all represent very powerful outposts of this quality of arrogance) actually are the only “True” Canadians. The faults of far less arrogant others are beneath their notice!

This condescension and arrogance is so common and grotesquely shameless, that many people in small town and industrial Canada absolutely hate Toronto as the symbol of it, and greatly resent the way so many ignorant urban bourgeois bigots keep trying to rewrite the national story to suit their pride and also their cynical electoral purposes.

Which in turn, points us to something which has been fundamentally wrong with the Liberal brand for a considerable time – a deep seated contempt for mark one democratic principles (REPRESENT ALL THE PEOPLE) based upon the modern technocracy-as-religion delusion that there is a right policy for everything, and only a wrong kind of person could possibly object to it.

If you’re still trying to figure out what is so contemptible and dangerous about Neo-Liberalism, I would like to suggest this is actually an easier way in, than going through economics. It is a belief system which considers itself a rightful aristocracy, and non-believers to be sub-human (though it would never use such clear language). Too dumb to know what is best for them. Not ever to be listened to, considered, or shown simple respect.

Now, for a bit of balance – Canada actually is a rather mellow place on a lot of fronts (and my readers know I love my town). A surprising number of our defining historical events were compromises and accommodations, where many other nations celebrate annihilating victories, and this still shows in many areas. Policy wise, we roughly split the difference between American kill-or-be-killed and Nordic humanist-buffered capitalism. You really can’t call a resource extraction economy which has never managed to find the national will for a sustained investment in value-added a socialist project in any serious way, but our social programs do effectively reach many, and there is always political benefit to be harvested in trying to go further still, on simple humane grounds. “Nice” still sells here – and that’s not something to be ashamed of.

Now I am a Toronto kid, and while I am sincerely trying, I cannot completely set aside my perspective, but I would still argue that our hypocrisy is more or less national – but only if you first grant this hierarchy of contempt. One thing all of Canada except Toronto agrees on, is that they hate Toronto (even the other social justice hotspots still hate us, for doing it all wrong). But one thing all of Canada including Toronto agrees on, is that we’re really damn glad we aren’t American.

We feel superior for not invading, exploiting and destroying so many people overseas, and for being kinder to our own as well. But if we actually wanted to earn that high-ground, we would have to forgo the benefits of America’s lethal adventurism, and we do the opposite, every time – crowding around the fresh kill hoping for a bone with meat on it. No, we didn’t send any soldiers to fight in Vietnam, but we were very happy to sell them most of the copper needed for all those bullets and bombs.

America is a Lion with Alzheimers, bloody of tooth and claw, but it doesn’t ever really quite know why. But on that same scale, Canada is a hyena with syphilus, always in for a cut of the spoils (and a shameful dose of snark). You can recognize our rare Canadian statesmen and women, because they actually have stood up to the lion on principle. Lester Pearson made a prescient speech in Buffalo NY opposing the Vietnam war at it’s outset – soon after, the sainted Lyndon Johnson grabbed him by the collar and lifted him right off his feet, bellowing “How dare you come into my living room and piss on my carpet!” (No, the rabies ain’t new – nor Lebowski’s wrath, it seems). Paul Martin gently destroyed an all-Americas trade deal by giving a keynote speech announcing to the assembled potential signatories that “America does not honour their trade deals” (as indeed we have learned the hard way). Martin’s next election was plagued with dirty tricks and perfectly timed concocted scandal. Sadly, like so many places around the world, we don’t seem to make politicians with that sort of principle and backbone anymore – or if we do, we sure as heck don’t want to elect them!

What we elect now are charismatic actors, backed up by a team of poll-chasing business school graduates. What do we get from them? A pyrotechnic festival of obfuscating metrics – but most crucial work is not ever done – because these days it is nearly impossible to accomplish change, without someone considering it a grave injustice – and (up until recent new innovations in folly) no one wants to risk starting a voter revolt which plays directly into the hands of their opponent.

The especially weird Liberal two-face posture might make more sense in this contrast. Federal Liberals were long champions of Canadian content rules for Canadian broadcasters. Because broadcasters were required to have a certain percentage of Canadian content, they had to commission a whole lot of production for a sustained period of time. Toronto and Vancouver in particular now have extremely busy high-end film and television industries (just as Montreal is an international powerhouse – and a cultural leader also, in terms of the games world), thanks to far sighted tax policies and content requirements.

But no one of a certain age will ever be able to forget Liberal Member of Parliament Sheila Copps, who I outright liked for her nerve and wit in question period, standing in the house of commons to declare Canada does not have a culture. A shockingly honest summary of the rot in the Liberal brand.

What she really meant was – we Liberals are disconnected elitist snobs, the kind of people who talk big about the working class, but treat waiters like servants (an even more pronounced problem of the supposedly hard left NDP party – but that’s a takedown for another day), and we will always be ready to show casual disrespect to everyone who ever contributed to what we already are, just to court the immigrant vote (important everywhere, absolutely crucial in the Toronto region).

For a couple of decades now, I’ve had more friends who were born elsewhere and came to join our national project than I have Canuck chums, though many of both. Further, for more than three decades I have been making the argument that Canada is a million times more fun, interesting and culturally rich, because of the contributions of successive waves of immigrants. Toronto used to be the city of churches – our recent high water mark is much more like the city of festivals.

BUT – there is and has always been a TON of rich, wonderful and diverse culture all across Canada – and this shockingly pig-ignorant bourgeois and shamelessly bigoted modern idea that vast numbers of good hard working people deserve to be dismissed with outright contempt, because they don’t agree with a particular modern conception, blinds us to the full range of what we must learn, do and be, in order to make a whole society function (something those we are now popularly encouraged to disparage so much, worked a great deal harder on, than we show any signs of ever being willing to).

I adore scholarship and culture of all kinds – high brow and cheesy – but I would still far rather live in a world composed entirely of farmers, than a world of sociology students and literary critics. Not only would we all survive longer and eat better, we’d whine a hell of a lot less, solve more problems, and have way way way more fun!

Okay now, what is a Justin Trudeau anyhow? He is a schoolteacher, I swear, I have worked with this guy. When he showed up to a party in blackface, he thought he was being charming and daring and sexy. A little bit of transgressive fun – ha ha! When he first instituted a (long overdue) annual Day of Truth and Reconciliation, and then took his family on holiday for it, instead of meeting with native leaders, he was only hoping to avoid causing (or having to hear) any bad feelings, that’s all.

He thinks everyone should be nice, follow the rules, show up to class on time and obey, or else he should be able to punish them – because after all, the shaping of young minds has been entrusted to him. Except – that isn’t his damn job anymore, and he still shows no sign of understanding that the leader of a democracy has to represent the people his teacher-mind would rather put in detention – exactly as faithfully as those he would sit at the head of the class with a big gold star.

The best thing Justin did was take a page out of his father’s book. Trudeau senior’s first official act (1969) was to make homosexuality legal in Canada. Like him or not (and that argument will never end) he was brilliant, and clearly thought about making sure he left a positive legacy, whether he had a long career at the helm or not. “Government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation” was his particularly clear and excellent way of putting it. This was about liberty and respect for citizens.

Justin’s need to get the whole class singing the same song made his own move less inspiring. Again and again he made it clear that he wasn’t legalizing cannabis in Canada because it was the right thing to do, or because roughly ten percent of the Canadian public enjoy it, decade after decade. He even said it wasn’t about unjust arrests and lifelong damage (which it sure as hell was, to a whole lot of those ten percent). He said legalization was a program designed to displace organized criminal gangs, and remove (actually, divert) one of their key revenue streams. But he also displaced all the cool farmers and medicinal growers who had accumulated vast learning and taken great risks to help cancer patients for the last half a century. (No other medicine is better for Chemo, ask anyone).

Still, even with all cool points absent – the accomplished policy is an important demonstration case, and also another humanist policy distinction with the American national government. We’re glad no one is being hauled off to jail for having a joint anymore, and we are working on erasing old convictions also. Well done Justin!

Since then? Well, there aren’t a heck of a lot of things you can get done, when you are determined to dodge hard feelings, and avoid being totally honest with anyone.

The SNC Lavalin case was interesting. I break with a lot of people on that one, because I understand exactly why he, as Prime Minister, exerted extreme pressure on his Justice Minister to allow an “out” for one of our weirdest and most corrupt international corporate titans. Balance of exchange anyone? Very simply, were SNC Lavalin excluded from bidding on Canadian infrastructure projects for years, Canadian taxpayers would end up transferring billions of Canadian dollars into the hands of the even more weird and troublesome Bechtel, and similar American firms. There was a clear, simple and strong case on national interest (and we were sparring against Trump at the time, so fair play and sportsmanship were not on offer from that quarter). But Justin didn’t have the balls to say any of that. He thought he ought to be able to solve a key problem of economics, corporate governance and international diplomacy by being adequately peevish, and having someone else make it go away.

And so, to now – I have had to step away from my usual voracious consumption of international news the last few days, because so many columnists who I generally like, have been very lazily taking their lede from mainstream Canadian journalists, and thus getting the whole story wrong. Telling only the smug arrogant Rosedale clean-fingernail version of things – that is, the kind of a story which makes every other part of the country absolutely hate us! (and not without reason).

No, it is not a gang of white supremacists come out of the woodwork. The Spartacists always used to send six people to the front of every parade with a big banner, and then get a photo, so they could proclaim in “The Workers Vanguard” that thousands showed up just for them, and not their actual anti-poverty or anti-nuclear cause.

No they aren’t rabid anti vaxxers either – though we really ought not to be using that phrasing anymore, don’t you think? We now have adequate evidence to prove it does absolutely nothing to persuade those with reservations, and frankly, respect is also a non-negotiable part of any sound governance – something we have clearly forgotten just as badly as senile Joe has, though with considerably less of an excuse.

Now here’s something I really never expected to say. Despite missing a few very helpful policies (like guaranteeing enough paid sick time for those with covid to get over it, before economics forced them back to work, where they might spread it again), our conservative provincial government has done a better than expected job at managing the emergency. Policy hasn’t been outstandingly great or horrible on the international scale (our urban lockdowns have been severe – but compliance and results also much better than for many), the thing is, every single time Ford had to use government power to compel behaviour, he has appeared genuinely reluctant to do it, and also very aware of how much sacrifice he was asking of everyday people.

I know there are a million technical arguments about measures and timing – but I swear the importance of tone in this emergency has been crucial. When Ford says he wants to close things as little as possible, because he knows people are desperate to get back to their lives, we actually believe him. Not just because he is pro business (and this is the key thing so many leftists here miss about the Ford approach), but also because he really does think the famous ‘little guy’ deserves respect.

I have had simple personal encounters with stalwarts of the left who proved themselves contemptuous entitled and shockingly honourless, in their private dealings. Liberal smugness may even transcend that of the definitively sanctimonious NDP, for being even less self-aware and more condescending, with even less heart or conviction.

What the truckers needed was a meeting with a truly humble leader who could convince them that he hated every government power he had to invoke, appreciated everything they contributed, and regretted how much his measures cost them.  This was a long way beyond Justin’s personal capability, but that isn’t the truckers’ fault.

Now before anyone gets too excited – let me ask one the crucial question which really scales the “THREAT” of this “genuinely fed up with sneering contempt” movement, before the government deliberately escalates, in order to provoke a discrediting reaction from the furious minority which can predictably be found (and if necessary, helped along) in every group of disparaged and unheard protestors.

By a quirk of Canadian law, the party in power can choose to set the date of an election when it favours them. Parties in opposition always promise to change this unfair advantage, but once they win power, they love the corrupting lever too much to surrender it. (Like Obama, with W’s insane extension of government powers).

Now – can anyone honestly tell me with a straight face that the truckers are being more reckless for less reason than Trudeau was, when he chose to call a very early election right in the middle of the pandemic? He absolutely knowingly endangered citizens across the country, just for political sport and ego. These truckers aren’t there for sport, nor to represent hatred. They want their rights respected – and especially to know that suspension of the principle of bodily integrity was a temporary emergency move, and not a power which goverment will now attempt to enshrine forever.

Trudeau may think sneering “Let them eat cake” and slamming the portcullis will cut it. But this has not generally proven to be an especially successful strategy for governance in times of widespread working class unrest.

Sadly, the brilliant woman who I was absolutely certain would be our next prime minister, and might even have saved the Liberal brand itself, Christia Freeland, has now also taken herself out of serious contention by revealing her inability to act in a diplomatically objective manner when it comes to Russia. Terribly sorry, but we don’t need a Hillary here either. The Albright doctrine is perhaps the only political philosophy even more cynical and outright evil than Kissinger’s. At least the neocons have the excuse of staggering stupidity.

So now I’m left scratching my head. Is it going to be Prime Minister Poliviere and Premier Ford? Prime Minister Ford and Premier Brown? The other way around, maybe?

I am pretty sure Canada isn’t the only place where this is happening. Conservatives are gaining spirit and inertia, mostly because the centre and left have decided to shit their diapers.

To be sure – so far we are earnestly told that actually, someone else put those diapers on them, snuck the shit in there, and then forced them to whine and say all that dumb stuff.

But at some point we will need to find and back some serious principled and sane adults in the centre and on the left, or the right everyplace is going for an extended power-play against an empty net.
¯\(ツ)

Translating the key take-away here into American terms – as frightening as rednecks can be made to appear to smug city folk who almost always take their extraordinary relative advantages for granted, it is actually New York and California where insane new wars, vast foreclosures and shockingly inhumane commodifications of life itself are planned, not Arkansas, Idaho or Wisconsin.  Not that you’d ever know it, from the moralizing rhetoric. 

Not What We Expected To Learn

I must admit that when I say it simply, it still sounds like a silly bit of dinner party wit, even to me, but I actually was part of a socialist comics collective way back in the late 1980s (my early twenties). Each of us had various talents drives and interests, all of us had a goodly dollop of self-seriousness, so it seemed obvious that we could accomplish more if we worked together using what we thought of as our socialist principles, and forged a mighty team of working class propagandists to challenge the oppressive and enslaving system.

Now at this point I could go several different ways, to tell several different stories about it – but like my multiple angle take on “The Arts and Letters Club” I’d rather do several takes together, even if they are at odds in some ways, instead of paring it down artificially to make one narratively clean story that throws away a bunch of perfectly good lessons.


Our Political conception wasn’t crazy, nor was the idea of reaching a big audience with comic books (a hope now several decades in the past). This was the exciting era when Frank Miller was redefining Batman, Bill Sienkiewicz and Alex Ross were adding fine art techniques to make magnificent use of new higher quality printing, and even the always corny DC was getting political and artistically deep. Cool independent comic stores were all over the place (I literally had two open within blocks of me, while I was working on this project).

The story we wanted to tell was designed from the start to include a peek at many levels of society. My experiences as a courier and the senior member’s as a cabbie were especially fertile for clues there. So much of what the upper class always hides from the middle class is actually quite obvious to the working class people who serve their various needs.

We had characters and sub-plots designed to take us into the weapons trade, political corruption, banking and stock market games and the largely hallucinatory (and yet no less harmful) financial system in general. We had a hacker undermining confidence in currency transactions, and even a poor man’s DIY electromagnetic attack on the stock exchange.

The ultimate result was to throw the rich into such a panic about their situation that they called out martial law on the streets of peaceful (and proportionally naive and smug) Toronto. We wanted to show ordinary people reacting to circumstance of extreme state force, and suddenly questioning assumptions which had always seemed adequate in good times.

But all of that fictional drama has been rendered completely anti-climatic by the course of events!

Our traumatic G20 experience (which, as my good friend put it perfectly, proved above all else that former prime minister Steven Harper hated Toronto) showed everyone how fast the hard policies come down, how rapidly citizens rights are dispensed with, and even how vicious some former police chiefs remain about the city that always despised them (Fantino was the rat-bastard behind most of the grotesqueries for which Blair took the heat, like a good soldier – hence Blair’s many political rewards since). Police ultimately paid almost 17 million dollars to citizens who were wrongly arrested and mistreated in this particular display of pointless mass state brutality.

The two thousand and eight financial crisis showed anyone who was paying attention how tenuous, hallucinatory and predatory the financial system really is. A tiny club of arrogant psychopaths gambled with our money and almost destroyed everything – and somehow taxpayers all around the world had to make them rich again to fix it?

Ludicrous, extortionate, and incidentally rock solid proof right from the start that whatever it was that Obama was about, it wasn’t ever left. (‘Murder Tuesdays’ is a close second).


Okay now how about the practical side? Let’s do the good news first. There was one simple thing we did which I must recommend for all working on team efforts – especially if they are, like we were, terribly broke. Every time we showed up for a weekly meeting we each chipped-in five bucks. Not much, but enough that over time when we needed an expensive reference book or key source material, we always had a hundred ready to spend that week – so we didn’t have to wait until we could save it up, before we could move that part of the work forward.

This works just as well for a band, an art collective or even a poetry group. Keep chipping-in a few pennies on the pile, and you can all have access to key tools none could afford alone.

Ah – but what about the really crucial practical part – getting work done? That was a lot more complex. None of us really understood how to put together a comic or how to effectively manage a large creative project, so we made some decisions that were outright silly. My illustrations of buildings and interiors were pretty good at the time, and the other artist had a wonderfully fluid natural line and a good command of human form. We thought we’d do a sort of manga mash-up with clean rapidograph backgrounds by me, and his far more expressive variable-line brushwork or marker figures inhabiting these scenes. I must note, the Bros Hernandez already solved this two-artist problem perfectly. Don’t mix two styles (unless you are expert at this) simply tell one story in one style and another in another, but put them in the same universe and comic book (in their case the brilliant and forward thinking “Love and Rockets”).

Bands also figured out a version of the same lesson – even if some are better at songwriting than others, everyone in the band gets to write a song for the whole group now and then, and it’s better to just let them have their full voice, back them up and give them their chance, than to try to standardize or smooth it out to fit just one predictable and established “house style”.

The big bonus for our foolish decision? I had to turn myself into a photographer, in order to get clear reference shots of all the real world Toronto locations we wanted to use for our story. This even aligned perfectly with my Grandmother insisting I must have a small trove of master prints by my Grandfather – who was an accomplished photographer back in the 1930s – a collection which still inspires (and humbles) me to this day. I did take a pause of almost a decade between analog photography and digital, but as my friends know well, I am overjoyed to be participating in that most fleeting and fascinating medium again. One of those rare arts which we can still access fully even as our bodies become less willing to contort and spend fifteen hours straight, rendering (though I can still get swept away into that sort of binge mixing music, if not inking a drawing).

Our comics collective meetings though? Wow – comical in so many ways I have never quite been able to dismiss the idea of a play (not that I’ll do it, it just suggests itself for that, so eagerly). Not only did we never even finish one single comic, we didn’t even have a final script for the first series – and sillier still – we never even got past endless arguments and decided on a title.

I was strongly in favour of “Faction Comics” as a play on the original “Action Comics” the first comic in which the character Superman appeared. You might think the opposition was from people who didn’t want to pick a fight with the fearsome lawyers at DC comics (not crazy), or from those who wanted no external commercial referent at all (also artistically sound).

WRONG – the part which was deemed unacceptable (and it is completely impossible for me to convey how seriously this was taken, by all concerned) was the doubt about our using the all important revolutionary word “Faction” too casually, and potentially causing harm to it. How dare we risk weakening a tool the proletariat might need for revolution, any minute now?

Exactly how many ways you have to take yourself too seriously to get into a mental trap like that might be impossible to fully innumerate. Multi level self-deception for sure, probably a full philosophical plus a second full psychological infinity. Thank goodness we’ve left that sort of paralyzing pompous blowhard egotistical nonsense firmly behind us nowadays, right folks? ;o)


So now let me do it as a story about people and their feelings. I was a newlywed and an apprentice technician at the time. I was also playing weekly (if not more) in an improvising ensemble. Since I always loved comics and loved to draw, I stared working on a comic about myself and a few of my courier pals (the job I had just left) who saw a lot of funny things around the city that others would not ever suspect. Mostly it was just a way for me to make fun of the customers who really drove me nuts, since you can’t ever speak hilariously simple truth right to an asshole-customer’s face until you own the place, and by the time you’ve got that much debt on your shoulders, you no longer rank your dignity ahead of their money!

Anyhow – I had a good bit of fun with it – especially playing with weird panel layouts. I was and remain somewhat obsessed with Will Eisner – one of the earliest and still one of the most creative comic book artists of all time. Soon I had my technician character making a few slightly post-reality gadgets – long before cellphones or even laptops, I wanted to give him a small portable computer (a “Wearable” in modern parlance) that he and his best buddy could use to hack bank machines. From there I started thinking about how the banking system would react to tech like that – and how much of a mess it could become politically, if a Robin Hood intention like that got too popular, too fast (the concept of “Virality” had yet to be invented then – like the internet itself).

My friends liked the silly comics I was making. We talked a little about how much bigger a story we could make if we pooled our efforts. Slowly, the team project began to form.

This is a really nifty stage in all kinds of groups of pals. I’ve seen clusters of friends turn into fantastic bands, become wild and interesting little schools of art, and even drive each other on to write poetry with truly heroic courage, where others with very similar capacities never dared try anything more risky than whatever would bring them a passing mark in school.

Excellence is something we almost always do with others – and they do it to us, every bit as much as we then do it to the world. Hanging out is fantastic, I honestly think friendship is the single most underrated experience in life itself. But I am still endlessly fascinated by how many other things a group of friends can suddenly become, when an idea takes hold of all of them.

One of the mistakes I made back then, which I could only see years later, was to pressure my older friend into taking a leadership role because of his intellect, even though the other lead artist and I were relentlessly and naturally productive, and he’d never managed to forge that habit. As Idries Shah brilliantly said, “Affection does not produce capacity.” Then again, this sort of false modesty blind-spot is a lot easier to create when you feel fatherless and would love some caring mentoring. Thing is, he was kindly offering me this anyhow, and I should have left it at that and been glad of it, instead of handing him the helm of something that was already working well for me.

Outside of discovering a life long passion for photography, the second best bonus for this dead-end project was the fantastic time Catherine and I had making up characters. We started on this the day after the other guys decided to join the project. We sat down in the corner of a large restaurant at King and Bathurst (Cadillac Jacks at the time), began to survey the busy restaurant full of King street artists and scene people (there were glorious acres of cheap rent studios down there back then) and the long bar full of Friday afternoon businessmen, I spread out my notebooks, and the wacky characters just started presenting themselves to us, one after another, fully realized.

Alongside my original technician and his neighbours we soon had an arms dealer named Pierre Monaic (as close as we could get to maniac, though he was personally refined and snooty) a banker named Phil T Luchre, a bike courier named Despaccio, and a canny high-class prostitute who could provide a narrative link between these odd worlds, named Keri Meighoff.

I have enjoyed collaborations with many others on music, art, writing and even game design, but I have to say I have never had more fun or created in a happier spirit than with Catherine, rare as these treats remain. She is not only ultra fast of wit and funny with backstories and people observations, but also an intuitive monster with a TR808 Drum machine – if only they hadn’t become the Ur prize for hip-hop posers (and instead remained the obscure phone-jack candyland of the CV synth crowd) I might still be able to put one in front of her, and we could all be dancing to the resultant raptures. ;o)


So here’s one final lesson I learned which seems important. We started as a team of three, and in a rather over-serious way we made clear formal agreements about our approach, our way of working together, and especially our respect for one another’s process. Soon after we began the legwork for our grand project, a fourth person wanted to join, but he made it clear from the outset that he did not want to agree with any of the agreements we three had already made, even though they weren’t restrictive, and were clear and fair (albeit somewhat formal).

I felt sure that he should either agree as we had all agreed, or else remain an associate to the project, rather than a key member of the team. I was outvoted. But sure enough, the dynamic changed from that point on – that was when the importance of making creative progress became stifled and then completely overwhelmed by petty arguments about political theory instead.

I still have a stack of preliminary drawings and studies I did for the project – and I went on to fail all by myself at an even more ambitious comic project (based upon the extraordinary Soviet space station program, a rescue of Mir from Salyut Seven, to be precise) – so I don’t want to sound as if I was thwarted by this funny failure. I learned tons and tried even harder afterward.

But I did feel it was necessary to close the crazy and frustrating chapter properly. Hence this very silly two-page spoof of our efforts, a nice memento of lessons learned.

I know I’m not the only one with a creative metabolism like this (Bradbury hints at a very similar dynamic in his “Zen and the Art of Writing”). Something sits in your head and just drives you sort of nuts. You turn it over looking at the different angles, you try to understand if there were clues you ignored, you wonder what you should have said or done differently – right up until you manage a satisfying creative articulation of the key point – and then it has finally been said and you don’t ever have to spend any more time worrying about how to say it. Phew! Next (Au suivant! – in the Brel-est possible way) ;o)

Yeah, I know – not that anything in the universe ever stopped me from going on rather a lot about pretty much anything at all, right?
¯\(ツ)

Not Your Daddy

Hello folks – time for some full-strength politics once again!

It is such a strange moment right now – I’d really like to be able to link directly to my most passionate friends on the right, middle and left and ask them to give this one a listen and a think, but I don’t want to accidentally set up a petrie dish for a grudge match (social media’s new favourite trick). So instead let me just ask all my pals to try this one on with an open mind. And as fraught as these times are, trust me folks – despite our high emotions, it simply isn’t true that practically everyone is a despotic, demonic, unprincipled, ignorant, intolerant, insufferable immoral maniac nowadays – some people are still centrists!

My apologies to one and all, of course – but then, I also trust that any with humour still intact will appreciate the irresistibility of that one (and the necessity of the chuckle). ;o)

There really are a lot of objective reasons for our widespread feelings of frustration right now – but it seems as if we hear less objective thinking or fair minded discussion than ever. I am (still and always) opposed to tribalist thinking, and pointless (always ruler-serving) conflict – and at this point it feels like tribalism needs to be defined clearly. What I mean is any set of ideas which makes a person think aggressive categorical unfairness is helpful.

That old maxim “Never explain as malice, that which can be explained as stupidity” isn’t important because it gets people off the hook – but because it gets us out of our heads and into the world – which truly is both stupid and evil – but so outstanding in the stupid department, that to ever rule it out is reckless.

Hearing vicious arguments between two people who haven’t even got good command of their own points, and show even less simple respect for reason or compassion is really not anything new. For a lot of people in the middle, tribal politics has always looked like that – that’s why it’s such a huge turn-off. You can tell right away that neither side is quite sane – or else why would they so often allow themselves to be represented by such fools?

But though this extreme mode of discussion isn’t new, it has never before been so horrifically dominant. Even coming to the defence of someone for trying to be fair, can get someone attacked with quite extraordinary vitriol.

I think a big problem is that we simplify too far – and start taking broad categories to be useful, instead of questioning the specific content. We really like the big horse, and don’t ever stop to wonder about why it is so big, has spears sticking out of it, and keeps coughing like a few dozen hardcore soldiers.

Now – I will let the episode speak for itself. I sincerely hope you find a few useful ideas in there someplace. If you find yourself wondering where I found some of the data which goes with my ideas, there are a few really interesting reading, listening and viewing sources below.

Cheers folks – and thank you very much as always for the thoughtful ears.
Tally ho!

 

 

 

If you think I’m being too strong against war, here’s Jacobin’s bracing take on US policy in the Ukraine (not where I got my ideas, just another source)


In case you think I’m simply wrong about police in America killing far more white than black people, this is the best public record I’ve found.

 


Here’s an (oddly wry and charming) stoic intellectual on the truly awful questions of excess death and race.


Charles Ekokotu offers a highly illuminating Nigerian take on many topical issues which vex us:

I was especially taken by this piece comparing tribalism near and far

 

If you are losing sleep over the white supremacist hordes – here’s a revealing piece from the Guardian (no gossip-rag) about how the dominant faction is not only utterly pathetic, but also less than 250 guys – nation-wide.

 

Finally I must mention Glenn Lowry – with whom I differ politically, but I sincerely admire for engaging with many crucial questions around these matters in an especially probing, wide-seeking, data and compassion together sort of way. Well worth listening to not only for his interesting guests, but his combination of bright humour, fine insight and playfully skeptical intelligence – and never better than when he’s chatting with his also brilliant friend, the hilarious, principled and insightful linguist John McWhorter.

 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Medium and the Big Mess

What is reality, really? This is one of those strangely tricky questions humans have been asking for a very long time. On an emotional level we often feel as if the answer should be obvious, or at least very clear and stable once we have finally found it. But it we study the efforts of the many people who have offered their best answers over the centuries, we often find even more and deeper questions, and very rarely do we get to anything final or completely satisfying.

There is a good reason to think the introduction of language made the question possible – but also made the answer tough, because as soon as we are using symbols to represent things, we can get confused not just by what we’re trying to describe, but by the symbols themselves. The printing press expanded knowledge greatly, by allowing people to gain ideas from others who they could never possibly meet – but it also allowed misunderstandings which would never have been possible if the ideas were passed face to face, and both deliberate lies and honest self-deceptions were no less popular than works we still regard today as outstandingly wise and perceptive for their time.

Early mass media like newspapers (still only a couple of hundred years old – very young on the scale of important cultural innovations) added another complication, gathered interests influencing the stories which are told. Sometimes we would hear the news, and sometimes we would hear a kind of spin, which reflected an advertiser’s influence more than the truth.

Computers are both different from all of these mass symbol systems and very much the same. They allow us to extend our imagination further and for longer than we ever could before. But there is nothing about them which makes truth sound better than nonsense, or helpful messages more appealing than harmful foolishness or manipulative flattery. This isn’t simply bad or good. It’s more complicated, because we’ve learned things we didn’t expect, thanks to persistent shared systems of imagination.

 

 

We talk a lot about our anger toward others lately, but not very much at all about our own levels of awareness, compassion and contact with reality. Problem is, I’m pretty sure that most of what we’re angriest about is stuff we make up to fill in the gaps in our awareness of others – either because we are (technically) ignorant, or because we outright prefer anger to understanding.

The stuff that really needs doing just isn’t that emotionally interesting, compared to hunting down a metaphorical witch and burning them. The computer can make the witch seem real, and the torches and pitchforks incidental. Nope – our anger and violence is real – the pitchforks really do hurt actual people – but the proof of their witchery is almost always a product of our own unwholesome fantasy and our repressed and often outright denied fury.

Self deception is ancient, so is violent and grotesquely ignorant tribalism – computers can make us sure that witches are real and we are heroic for celebrating our anger and destroying them – but reality is still there waiting for us, should we ever decide it is more important than ego (which BTW is lesson one, for every viable system of wisdom known to humanity).

I still think it might help if we thought a lot more like blacksmiths, instead of always worrying like self-important riders too busy to care about the horse or other riders. But then I think a whole lot of crazy stuff.

Have a listen and see what you think about it!

(And if what you think is a little different from what you feel, please have a think about why that might be – I am especially interested in that distance, because I am certain a key to greater respect understanding and healing is hiding right there, only just barely out of our grasp)

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Stymie and Toffel

Hello friends! I am overjoyed to announce my latest book – Stymie and Toffel – a whimsical Toronto tale of dystopian uplift for older kids and especially imaginative adults, with 19 superb illustrations by Andrew (Rewfoe) Foerster, has finally arrived, is utterly fantastic and is now for sale!  Print or Ebook.

The story is a kid’s eye view adventure set in a very different Toronto, but my version of dystopia is all about finding fun, true friends and a place where we belong, despite the chaos – just like so many youngsters long before us, who grew up in especially crazy times!

My wife and I first met Stymie and Toffel – a couple of (imaginary) hilariously independent and eccentric twelve year old orphans, when they came to live with us many years ago. We really enjoy their odd perspective and funny zero budget life hacks. We also learn a lot, thinking about how this world looks to a clever kid, trying their very best.

For a long time kids got a diet rich in hope and inspiration – to help them reach and try hard. But kids now get adult information very early. There are great things to say about the modern world, but we don’t say them much. There are also lots of lousy things, and frightening possibilities for our future – we discuss that stuff endlessly. The earth has limits, and we’ve known for decades that we had to change our ways, or else we would harm its ability to host and nourish us. But for kids today that change isn’t remote – it’s heading for them directly in a way that feels almost personal.

What nobody ever says to kids is that just because things are bound to change, that doesn’t mean the future has to totally suck. We will still be here, and together we made: skill, art, kindness, honour, friendship, trust, welcome, compassion, respect and family (both natural and chosen) – long before we had factories, jet planes and cellphones.

Many adults can’t bear to think clearly about a different world. Our kids and grandkids can’t ignore it, and are made lonely by our denial. They deserve a vision of the future where fun, hope and cleverness will still be worthwhile on the far side of our crisis. And friendship, at least a hundred times more.

Stymie and Toffel. Barricades and cookie plates, and everyone together after all.

 

And now a bit about about the origins of the book.

Stymie and Toffel have been cracking my wife and I up for years with their antics, and I have been thinking about telling a story about them for almost as long. When that idea combined with writing something sweet about life after collapse, the project suddenly bloomed and felt ready. I wrote it with great exhilaration, surprised and charmed as I was introduced to each of the quirky supporting characters, and the strange world which they were trying to make the best of. When it was finished I read it aloud to Catherine, who pronounced it worthy of our wacky kids. Then I put on my publishers hat and thought about the shape of the final book, and realized that I already knew the perfect artist to realize my vision – and it wasn’t me!

I first met Andrew (Rewfoe) Foerster when I sat as a model for a drawing class in which he was an art student. On the break, we got to chatting about our love of making spaceship drawings, and we’ve been friends ever since. Not only do Catherine and I adore his drawings and animations, we have also bought a lovely set of his prints and we’ve been bowled over by his work in several superb exhibitions. It was these exhibitions which told my publisher head his vision was ideal.

Andrew followed his brilliant short film “Tin Canyon” (must watch) with an impressive variety of top notch work. I especially love his Ted Education videos, and the bittersweet animations he created for Alain Botton, for his “School of Life” series. Very busy guy, so I was nervous to ask.

But the universe really does loves a try-er. I had just finished my first draught of Stymie and Toffel a couple of days before, when I ran into Andrew in a busy foodcourt. I, still a model – he now teaching at the same institution where years before he had studied!

I think I was so excited I just ran up to him and blurted out, “You’re perfect for this!” then spent the next ten flustered minutes trying to explain my sweet and wonky vision to him – even though he was (as always) game and open, right from the get-go. I already knew he had the right line for the job – but he proved he also understood the tone I was after when, from just the roughest outlines of the story he smiled and said, “So these kids, they’re like two sides of you as a kid, right?”

And this will be important for some. I had a strange childhood, so the loneliness, defiant self reliance, eccentricity and also the precious feeling of a warm welcome at last – are all written emotionally honestly (by no means full-strength, just enough to resonate truthfully).

The extra fun personality, life, zaniness and coolness which Andrew’s drawings gave to the characters on my pages just about made me dance for joy! Exactly as I hoped, the final book contains one vision made far richer by two clever hands contributing their best.

A big-hearted book number four for the Large Ess Small Press Catalog. In Print or Ebook edition.

Stymie and Toffel. Post collapse Toronto, music, friendship, loyalty, and finding your family at last.

Extra note for Pre Christmas shoppers in the Midtown Toronto Area.

I understand that shipping charges can be inhibiting, especially within city limits. If you would like to buy any of my Large Ess Small Press books but save the freight charge please drop me a note at – Paul@LargeEssSmallPress.com – we can probably meet on Yonge between St Clair and Eglinton, then I can hand you the book(s) in person.  Save the shipping cost and the packaging waste also!

 

 

Only Way We Can Keep Losing

Image from the brilliant game artists at Ubisoft Montreal
(the startlingly beautiful – Assassin’s Creed: Origins – to be specific)


There are a few tough themes which I have been working on steadily ever since I was a teenager, but I have to say it is more than a little heartbreaking to see standing up for the recognition of universal humanity and the excellence of embracing love become so controversial.

Anger is very understandable in the moment – but always absolute poison as fuel to run on. As much for a movement, as for any individual human being. This isn’t even a moral assertion, this is a repeatedly proven human reality.

We always do our worst evil when we begin from the assumption that the other is evil, and we become less so in our hatred of them – and our anger compounds this error (and all too often horror) by drawing that circle of other wider and wider, until we feel we have absolutely great reasons to hate, all day long.

Twenty years ago, when “W” announced the “War on Terror” there were a huge number of intellectuals who stood up immediately and said – that is dangerously meaningless.

Of course terrorism is always wrong – but you can’t have a war on a generality. What you can achieve this way is declare a new reason to celebrate collective hatred, and lead with suspicion. Reduce the quality of life for everyone.

Now I know I’ll make a bunch of people grumpy pointing this out but fighting the patriarchy makes no more sense – we either confront individual people who do wrong, or we are entering into another fabulous new form of bigotry.

I don’t object to critical race theory because it insults white people – but because the effects of this idiocy will do incalculable and lasting damage to young black kids, most of all – and all kids in general. Trust me – kids aren’t the ones who screwed this planet up – and frankly, we’ve already screwed their whole lives enough, without making them feel individually responsible for, or victims of, the sins of centuries. This is a catharsis at their expense, not a curriculum for their empowerment, and we’ll regret it greatly, (and also quite directly, in both psychiatric billings and increased youth suicide).

The simple fact is that there are a few thousand incredibly powerful and evil people who are screwing up the works – not just making profit from death and poison on a staggering scale, but corrupting our political process in a way that hurts everyone, and keeps all kinds of citizens from feeling well represented – because they really aren’t.

If we save all our fighting energy for fighting them, we could actually win – save the planet, finally do something courageous and honourable for our kids future – it could be our real and practical way out – not via any grandiose untested fantasy, but through proven relationships and a lot of hard work.

Or we can try to defeat entire genders, or cisgenders, or races, or whatever.
Draw battle-lines so broad and absurd that we guarantee we’ll lose. Like now.

I wrote a poem about this kind of feeling not thinking a couple of years ago, that says it in a funnier way. I’ll include that below – but I think this new video (my most complex ever mix) says it rather more toe-tappingly.

Full Screen and Full Volume please (anyhow, we should all be dancing more, get the blood (and joy) circulating). The visuals celebrate two of the most artistic and under-appreciated game studios in the world – the proven and fabulous Ubisoft Montreal and the promising upstart Ubisoft Toronto.


Here’s the poem – If Only We Could Hate Our Way


Bonus (surprisingly helpful) Psychoacoustic Weirdness

A small note for my fellow electronic musicians. I still think in terms of analog studios, and sometimes get frustrated with the few but still very important technical limits of computer music. Mixing with headphones is one of the weirdest sins there is – but you really can’t ever get a properly resolved stereo image that way – it’s not just elitist sneering – it is also true! Or at least, it always was.

Have you tried an NX plug in yet? I was seduced by WAVES offer of a full recreation of the acoustics of the mixing room at Abbey Road studios – inside headphones (even uses the camera to track your head movements). Their Near Field (roughly – car mix), Mid Field (how will it sound on a good home stereo?) and Far Monitors (How will it sound in a club?) are all super useful. What really freaked me out about it was that I could hear all kind of imaging problems right away (in far especially), which were impossible to detect in a headphone mix – but when I switched back into the headphone mix, the improvements in clarity were obvious and dramatic!

Anyhow – if you are tempted, there are several on the market, and the Abbey Road one I like comes on sale for thirty or forty bucks pretty regularly. Well worth it just for the time saved and clarity gained. (And I mean that – at one point, this mix was such a mess I almost threw the whole darned song out).
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Pulling Out In Time

Hello my friends – time for a podcast once again. Afghanistan is the subject of the hour – but I haven’t heard a single word said yet, which reflects context or memory. Never in my own living memory has the professional news media industry been quite so dumb, casually racist, dishonest, immoral, or counterproductive.

As usual – I have several other big ideas to discuss as well – I try hard to make these programs useful, time independent and general, rather than going into huge depth about momentary situations and perishable technicalities. But propaganda is weird stuff. This century has nearly perfected lying by omission, which enables ideas which would be obviously insane, if we didn’t buy into the first lie.

In any frightening upheaval, there are always questions of who was at fault and who bears the responsibility (not necessarily the same who). The question for those who must fix things is how.

 

 

 

The questions we in the west could most helpfully ask ourselves, but refuse to, because we lack the courage to face a mirror honestly, are – why do we keep finding ways to justify incalculable disaster, every time something below our consciousness boils our blood and demands immediate action?

Why do we think everyone else’s business is our business to be solved at the point of our bayonet? – especially when we haven’t even managed to get our own business running smoothly yet?

Are we just fantasizing our self importance out of all proportion, and drinking way too much coffee?

Is the west a fundamentally homicidal project, which is too dishonest or ignorant to admit its nature?

Is running a whole series of teaser-lines in a row, all ending with a question-mark an “Aspect or assumption of whiteness?” Tune-in to todays exciting episode, to find out!

Cheers, pals

Happy hugs of gratitude where things are good – and sad hugs for grief and consolation elsewhere. 

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Progress

Here’s an example of a very old idea with clear sharp modern relevance.

The idea comes from Rumi’s father Bahauddin (apologies to my Persian friends if I got that wrong – spelling varies here for almost all of the greats). Very little of his famous “Drowned Book” is available in English – but Barkes and Moyne have released one volume of delectable excerpts.

From these small sketches at least, we get the impression that he was a wilder mystic than his son. More ecstatic in some ways – at least until Rumi’s life was upended by his new friendship with Shams – when he too began to draw from an even sweeter and more otherworldly well.

Rumi’s works are also much more polished and purposeful – Bahauddin’s book really feels like an artist’s sketchbook – we feel not a refined program for the seeker, but the thrilling active process of a genius pushing.

As I noted elsewhere, the times in which Rumi lived were not at all ideal – war and ruin had already come to half of Islam – and the once great empire was then fractured into smaller principalities. Refugees were everywhere.

At times like that, tempers get high, crazy rumours seem credible, fights break out in formerly peaceful areas, and mobs do damage, instantly inspiring other mobs.  All of this would have been hard for comfy westerners to relate to 30 years ago – but we’re seeing it every night on the news now. This is why Bahauddin’s advice about dealing with a mob hit me so hard.

Confronting their anger is pointless – anger is why they all showed up. The only way to get them to even listen, is to tack alongside.

One final (funny) note – after reading the book many times over, and finding great value in it, I finally had a chance to discuss it with my friend from Somalia, who finds my interest in the Sufi classics by turns charming and hilarious. By then, I had convinced myself that the title of the book was “The Ma’rifa” but as soon as I said that she laughed and said,

“Wow, look at you, you finally know a word. Yes, that is wisdom.”

I did an instant flashback on that time in art-school when I was posing for painting students in my “Traveller from an antique land” costume (inspired by the poem Ozymandias), and I asked an Arab student the proper name for the classic middle eastern long shirt.

He said, “It’s called a Thob.”

So, being mister curious I went one step further and asked – “What does that translate into, literally?”

He gave me a deadpan look and a perfect Catskills pause, then said, “Clothing.”
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Sculptor’s-sculptors sculptures

Loring, by Wyle (top photo)

One of the biggest problems with so many oversimplifying explanations of how society ‘really’ works is that these theories always seem to leave out one of the most interesting and important parts of any society – its willful and often unstoppable productive eccentrics.

They aren’t toeing the line, following the established schools, rules or patterns.  They don’t fit a demographic, and their emergence, effects and repercussions aren’t mathematically predictable, no matter how clever the theory. They are gloriously humane weirdoes – black sheep with generous spirit and often an improbably brilliant perspective – and we are all very much the richer for the way their personal quests and commitments advance our shared culture.

Wyle, by Loring

Florence Wyle (b Nov 24 1881) and Frances Norma Loring (b Oct 14th 1887) both began life in the USA – Wyle in Trenton Illinois, and Loring in Wardner Idaho. A determined intellectual from youth, Wyle’s early aspiration was to become a medical doctor. At the age of 19, she enrolled at the University of Chicago as a pre-med student, and she stayed with the program which back then included drawing in first year and painting in second year.  It was third year sculpture which convinced her to transfer over to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1903, which is where she was to meet Loring in 1906.

Loring’s early life proves she had both rare talent and encouraging parents. She was only fourteen when she enrolled to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva – where she remained for two years before moving to Munich to study with sculptor Carl Guttner for a year, and then moving again to study at the Academie Colarossi in Paris.

All of this wide ranging instruction and experience before she arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago and met the woman who would change the course of her entire life. Still, she only stayed a year at the Art Institute (1906) before moving on to study at the Museum of Fine Arts (at Tufts) in Boston and later the Art Student’s League in New York (1910).

In 1909, Loring moved to New York and Wyle followed a few months after. They shared a converted stable in McDougall alley, the heart of the Greenwich village artists community, which is where they first started working on busts of one another. They moved to Toronto in 1913 – settling first on the second floor of a former inn at the corner of Church and Lombard, which had been converted into a busy carpentry shop. This is where many of their famous early commissions and monuments from the first world war period were planned and executed.

By 1920 they had finally saved up enough money to buy their own place, and settled into an old church schoolhouse on Glenrose avenue just outside the city in Moore park (now in busy midtown, but still quite lovely), where they would live and work together for almost half a century. A small park dedicated to the two of them now sits just next to the site of their beloved ‘Church.’

But already I am mainly describing dates and turnings, which is vastly underselling these two. They weren’t just super productive artists – doing both superb art deco style public memorials and fine modern art – together, they were a serious (and also insightful, witty and hilarious) force for cultural change and art promotion in the city and the nation as a whole.

Right from their arrival in (back then on the swampy edge of) town, they were known as “The Girls” and were soon legendary not only for their superb work and high productivity, but also for standing up for the dignity of artists as workers and important contributors to society, and for the place of sculpture among the fine arts, especially (which was not always so certain a ‘belonging’ as it nowadays seems).

Their studio and house held warm welcome for artists throughout the city who loved to visit “The Church” – since it was one of the greatest natural creative and intellectual salons Toronto ever had. Their friends A. Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris (who lived just down the hill in Rosedale) from the “Group of Seven” were only two of the most notable of many prominent figures one might run into there. But I am certain that their generous and encouraging effect on the lives of young artists starting out was even more profound and impactful – and for several generations of creators.

Throughout their creative lives together, Loring preferred working on a very large scale – Wyle, on smaller pieces. Wyle even quipped once that “Loring doesn’t like a project unless it involves a ladder”. Wyle’s medical studies made her a master of precise anatomical detail. She was also a poet, and of the two, did work which was more overtly expressive, sometimes referencing the classical in form, and sometimes outright erotic (for the times).

While looking into one of Loring’s best known portraits – a bust of the co-discoverer of Insulin, Dr Frederick Banting, which is now in the National Gallery of Canada, I discovered that Banting and A. Y. Jackson were friends – and travelled to the far north together, after which Banting famously brought great shame on the Hudson’s Bay company, for their treatment of and effects on the indigenous communities in the north – even though the comments which caused such an uproar in the press were supposed to be off the record.

The Governor and general manager of Hudson’s Bay Corporation caught up with Banting at the King Edward Hotel a month later and demanded a public apology. He apologized for the reporter leaking his off-the-record comments, but refused to retract any of what he had said, because it was the truth. Thing is, neither the governor or general manager had ever been to the north, where Banting not only had – but with a doctor’s eye – so the confrontation ended with the two corporate titans asking him for advice on how to improve the whole situation. Hard to imagine a resolution like that nowadays, right? We are so much more interested in being angry, than in learning from contrary sources and thus improving those things which rightly anger.

I imagine Jackson, who told this story in his autobiography, must have brought his good friend Banting – who was himself a devoted amateur artist for the last twenty years of his life – by ‘the Church’ for at least one visit (and who wouldn’t come back for more of such a fine salon?). So Loring was probably sculpting a pal, almost as much as she was a paying tribute to a medical hero and great public figure when she made that, one of her own favourite pieces.

In 1928, Wyle and Loring helped found the Sculptor’s Society of Canada, which was also headquartered at “The Church” for many years and happily persists to this very day (now on Church St – a local artistic expedition which I must and will make soon).

Loring was especially relentless in the promotion of the arts, and was the key force behind the founding of the Canada Council of the Arts, which has done a great deal to help creators secure funding to bring their visions to the public. As Brian Eno once said admiringly, in an autobiographical sketch (I paraphrase) “They grant artists less than those on welfare get – but the artists are filled with pride and delighted to have it, and often do extraordinary work with these limited means.” He’s not totally right – but he catches the gist. Super helpful arts program to this day.

I am going to make it a small personal mission to locate and photograph many more of Loring and Wyle’s public works, as things gradually ease back toward full-open (and my legs ease back into distance-functional) – but I thought for today, it was worth looking at these two portraits a few times each. These sculptures regard each other in the park named after “The Girls” right next to the site of “The Church” and they were made just after they came to Toronto together, so we see Wyle at 33 and Loring at 27. Though still early in their sixty year relationship, they already show wonderful perception and depth, without any cheap sentimentality. Honest strength and beauty.

Sculpture always frustrates me as a photographer – even more intensely now that I have had the experience of sitting as an art model for hundreds of students, learning to create realistic sculptural portraits (busts). You can show a lot about a sculpture in a photograph, but you are always leaving a lot out, also. Even shifting the angle in a portrait just a bit, can give us a whole different and very distinct insight into the subject.

These two – already so solid a unit – and with more than a half a century of partnership ahead of them, saw so much in each other, that I was still seeing new and interesting angles worth photographing in their elegant busts, when my old-man back started acting up! Squat-balking, to be specific (and three cheers for Jimmy McGill).

But I love the fact that these two are still together in their good place. This sort of sculpture really does have magical inertia – even for hard core rationalists and materialists.

Wyle died on January 14th, 1968 – Loring passed just three weeks later, on Feb 5th.
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PS – Can someone please write a spirited one-act play with Emma Goldman (who also lived in Toronto several times, during their long residence) visiting them at “The Church”? Not only would that be some of the smartest feminist dialogue in ages – I am pretty sure that some of my friends would get commissions, to decorate the studio/home set, in dazzling fashion.
(Studios of every kind have that same magical creative inertia – they want you to get the work done!) Put that on stage, a lot – like, constantly – PLEASE! ;o)

——-

This was a truly joyous research discovery. Here is an especially lovely treat from the archives of the CBC –a peek inside “The Church” of Loring and Wyle in active studio mode – with some lively insights about art and life from both.

And finally, one of the two historical markers which add context to the park.

 

Meta Pieman

Simple sigh, man.

Are you done yet, dad? Can we go now, dad? (top photo)

Had a nice Six K jaunt today – and though I turned my ankle twice (not at all normal), my main distance-walking muscles felt absolutely delighted to be doing their thing again – phew! Exploration on foot has been one of my greatest pleasures ever since I was a kid, so good to activate those important soul-stabilizing circuits once again.

Better still, I caught a few nifty images, and got taught another meta lesson in rushing to judgement. BTW, the all time best smart-ass one-liner about that subject? Deng Xiaoping was once asked what he thought about the French Revolution and he answered, deadpan, “It’s too soon to tell.”

My suddenly questionable judgement? I hate intensity of density – that is, some towers are all fine and well (when done with artfulness) but let’s not blot out the entire damn sky with them, please!

That being my starting position, I was happily stunned with what I found as I walked north along Yonge from Davisville, to a few blocks past Eglinton. I’ll share some views, because good news is in short-ish supply of late.

The opening picture shows a Starbucks which went out of business, and a fruit market and an independent restaurant which survived (The also great ‘Fruits basket’ one further door out of frame, made it too). I love the way these fresh food markets have adapted to their many condo and apartment customers – you can buy a whole pineapple if you want – but that’s a lot for one person to get through – so you can also get a half or a quarter pineapple that they just chopped up that morning – share the delightful freshness with other singletons and micro-portioners. Watermelon, Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melon – same deal. Perfect summer snacks, with natural sugars only, and superb thirst quenching built in!


No Bike-lanes here yet – but doors open and even better – customers!

This was nice to see – people enjoying summer again! I saw a lot of older folks out for their afternoon walks and lunches with friends, and got the feeling that more than one of these gentrified seniors lost a few pounds under lockdown, when they could no longer enjoy their favourite local chefs on a regular basis. Double astonishing – not only that so many of the old favourite restaurants were hanging on – there were even three NEW restaurants (Mexican, indy coffee and Thai) – talk about courage! (Mind you, I bet it was a great time to negotiate a lease).

Sadly, the wacky, OTT gadget-filled Spy Tech did not make it through, but there was a note on the door in which the owner thanked his customers for 29 great years! (Which by rough mental arithmetic, adds up to an awful lot of paranoid lovers, spouses and parents).

Mariachi’s

Mariachi’s is a cheerful and delicious spot – even from outside you can tell that they started with a vision and have put a whole lot of heart into the place. So glad they are still going (and have just as nice a street patio, which is why I was able to step back enough to capture the whole lovely painted front, without getting flattened by a semi).


Just the thing on a summer day (or evening)

I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that Punto Gelato was still there – superior flavours and lovely people. Let’s help them sell a lot of delicious gelato, eh? I want them to be around to cap perfect summer evenings ten years from now, too!


The Stock Answer

Here’s a minor case of my cynical assumptions being overturned. I was furious about this project – the developer knew there was a huge campaign to get the building designated historical (a no brainer) and snuck in with a last minute permit and started smashing stuff on the weekend, just before the stop work order could come through.

But – I have to give him huge points for the final result. Rather than gutting the historical building, then using it’s original facade like a flayed skin disguise for a hideous monstrosity of steel, concrete and glass, he actually had the good taste to leave the original building almost intact, and just added a too-bland-to-be-brutalist beige monstrosity, which now looms over this beauty from behind. Far from perfect, but if they absolutely had to raise the tax generation capacity of the site, they might have done much much worse.

(I did capture the nice old former post office building part – now a very spiffy dining establishment – but I’ll allow you to imagine the monstrosity for yourself, since this is in every way nicer to look at)


Such a Face

Though many have been lost, or turned into donut shops or retail stores, Toronto does still have quite a few historic small theatres – mostly tucked away on commercial streets of second order intensity. This one on Yonge is a real standout for lasting in such a perilous high turnover area, and it’s a genuine stunner, too.

They are obviously dancing as hard as they can, to keep the lights on. Points to the church, for booking a place big enough to distance responsibly – but you have to wonder if they knew what show would follow their act!

Personally, I always had fantasies of running one of those little shops that used to be built into the front of many old theatres like this. The wonderful repertory Bloor Cinema used to have a Kebab and Shawarma place – ideal way to make a line-up seem less tedious. But the all time best ever was the guy who decided to put a hobby store in the shop front of the old Eglinton theatre. For years, back in the 1970s, the Eglinton ran nothing but Charlie Chaplin films every weekend – and I remember standing in line and admiring the train-sets, slot-cars and other sophisticated toys on display vividly. Even George’s trains (a wondrous destination spot for decades) has now moved away from its old Mount Pleasant home. I wonder if we’ll ever again see R/C and balsa (that is, serious adult and kid hobbyists) together in the same store! Melancholy thought, I know. ;o)


Good Bite

This is much too plain a photograph to convey the magic within – the good bite is a genuine diner. Not a replica, recreation, hokey markety ploy piece of crap – I mean the real thing in every lovely way. On the weekends the grill is busy, and the bacon snapping. Eggs friend in butter, hot top for your coffee before you even ask for it. Every flavour just what you were hoping it would be, and every corner of your tummy filled. Oh, and BOOTHS!

Catherine and I used to go here all the time, many years ago. More recently, Nada and I stopped in and they all remembered me, and asked after Catherine. Even in polite Canada, not everyone thanks the cook for a great meal every time, as well as thanking the waitress – so cool that my “Captain Acknowledgement” thing counted enough for them, to be memorable – and it isn’t the only place where I have found a surprisingly warm welcome, many years after last being a regular.

Then again, it might have been the tensegrity towers I built with creamers (the wait-staff who liked me best, would keep bringing me more through the whole meal, just to see how many I could incorporate and balance).


Stalwart

To see that the Book City just south of St Clair was intact made me very very happy. It was even more cheering to see that the guys at BMV had survived the destruction of half their block (right up to their formerly shared wall), the construction of a massive tower right next to them, and then the long lockdown. BMV was started by a few guys who learned the trade at ABC Books, a few Km down Yonge St. (fingers crossed that they too survived) and combined their perfect used bookstore model (great condition only, very smart collection, no junk on the shelves – that’s for the dollar bin out front) with the ideal new bookstore model (again smart and also fun – complete with many sumptuous-to-browse sales tables) which Book City perfected, starting way back in the seventies.

The fact that BMV has excellent new stuff shelved right next to great used stuff means you can absolutely never tell what you’ll find there, and yet you can also rely on them having all of the standards you’d expect of anyone competent, with decent range. I not only found some lovely out of print Malraux translations – they even offered me several unknown volumes of John Brunner (my all time favourite science fiction author) an extended philosophical treatise from Rumi, and even a rare Doris Lessing book that I was sure I would never even see, let alone own. While at their downtown branch a few years ago, replacing a few precious pieces of Vonnegut and Bradbury with trade versions for my old-man eyes – I noticed that they shelved Atlas Shrugged in the humour section! Love ’em for life now.


Intersectionality

The corner of Yonge and Eglinton is right over the top for density – and for many years this meant traffic moved fast – and there is a major TTC station here, which dispatches many busses on routes radiating from the Subway line. But somehow, someone managed to create a transit plan for Toronto which includes chaotically obstructing one of the busiest intersections in the city for years on end, with no apparent result. Can’t even remember what they said they were building – a pneumatic tube transport, perhaps? Zero emissions, but don’t forget to pop your ears?  One can only hope.

This shot also captures the one moment today where I really felt my rustiness from an overlong dormant state, both in terms of my once fast-developing photographic nerve, and also my once reliable running speed! The patina of stickers, grime and hard use on the helmets of these three construction workers absolutely fascinated me when I stood next to them at a stoplight.  Almost like the helmets of veteran soldiers – there had to be a death defying tale behind every deep dent and scratch.

A couple of years ago, I probably would have just asked them – “Hey guys, mind if I get a snap?” Or, if I felt even nervier, I might have just taken one of what was behind them, and caught them on the crop (with apologies should they feel offended). Nerviest of all – just take the damn shot dead on, because it really was so absolutely perfect and art demands such risks, then try to explain it to them if they got mad, and/or run away apologizing.

But running away – going fleet of foot for a few blocks – my personal preferred combat technique in any physical conflict situation – ever since I was an undersized teenage soda jerk working the roughest part of downtown until 2AM every weekend – did not now feel like something I could reliably invoke.

Oh well – at least with this longshot I caught the Pickle Barrel restaurant in behind. Amazed to see they are still there, after so much construction on the street and the mall. Another place Catherine and I were once very welcome regulars – the greeter even knew which window booth and waitress (Ann) we liked the most! And yes, it was way more trouble to find and thank the chefs there (huge place), but I still made a point of it, every single time.

Damn I miss the feeling of visiting a friend, while we enjoyed a great breakfast fry-up with fruit on one side of the giant plate and latkes with sour cream AND applesauce on the other. (Challah toast an absolute MUST – but they better remember to speed up the “Salamander” so it doesn’t burn!)

Not only was the view of the whole busy intersection utterly fantastic for instant story and character creation (the version of people-watching Catherine and I have long enjoyed the most), their tables were especially solid – so you could make your creamer-tower really tower!


The Towering Infernal

I will freely admit that I may sometimes go too far in challenging my own biases. I still can’t see these three new residential towers as beautiful – but I do suspect that they, and the even scarier density of same, just above Eglinton, are a big part of why the many independent retail shops and restaurants on this pricey strip remain so vital.  Foot traffic provides their baseline metabolism.

Sweet Plums, Sweet Peach

But the new tax rate on Yonge is still a killer for the older businesses to adjust to, and the ones with heart don’t have the deepest pockets. Let’s leave our dosh with these struggling sweethearts whenever possible, and let all the conglomerate ‘Bucks and Marts recoup their losses on the long game. They might as well put all those business degrees on the board to some use – while we humans get busy revitalizing civic culture, one great urban-decadence expedition at a time.

And speaking of decadence…

A traditional Jalopyist, in full summer mating display

No, I’m still not a car guy – but this really looks like justified bliss to me – where commuting in an SUV for 90 minutes each way daily seems a whole lot more like slow suicide by treadmill. Distinctions count – and so does fun!
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Disobedience

Who is a rebel – what is the system? What is oppressive conformity, and what is heroic resistance? Where is corruption? Who and what holds real power? When is knowledge dangerous, who gets to decide? How free are we really willing to risk being? How much responsibility must we take?

Most of these are questions which seem to have several different sets of rather simple answers, depending on which belief system and/or tribe they are coming from.

But I don’t think any of the answers to questions like these are simple anymore. More twisted and puzzling than anything. And I don’t see any serious rebels here at all.

I hate to be rude and perhaps overly direct but – If we were doing this right, it would feel good.

 

Practical reality-happiness is what I’m after. As clear on the facts as thermodynamics, not some Pollyanna delusion – leading not to the cynicism our denial keeps producing, but the feeling of really engaging with the world and really doing what we can, under the circumstances.

Doing as well as we can under the circumstances is a strangely universal human standard. We all know everything is and looks different for every other person. But we can all credit a full effort, even in ourselves. I am convinced that we might begin to ease our epidemic levels of alienation, hopelessness and loneliness, if we stopped denying the most challenging things before us, and instead started working on them, as best we can – together.

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Hustling, Hassling, Sailing

Reopening and vaccinated at last. It is time to get the world-engaging side of my productivity-engine chugging again. So I’ve been cleaning out the boiler, checking gaskets, reviewing supplies of coal and water on hand and scouting new tracks, routes and customers.

Just before Catherine’s health crisis, which was immediately followed by our shared Covid pause, I finally got my first proof copies of my book “The Kind of Friend You Need” from the printer.  This is volume one of a two part collection of stories about heart-saving friendships and the funny character of Toronto, way back in the crazy eighties.

I planned to follow it soon after with volume two “At a Crazy Time Like This” and soon after that, my first release for young adults (and young-hearted adults) a charming tale called “Stymie and Toffel” about a couple of kids living in post-collapse Toronto. We keep telling kids that huge changes are an inevitable part of their future, but no one ever seems to say that no matter what our circumstances, friendship, loyalty, good humour, love and trying will still count for everything – just as they do now. Not as heavy handed as it might sound though – not a message piece at all, really, rather a small scale kid centred adventure, in a setting at once familiar and bizarre.

That project got a huge boost from the brilliant Andrew (Rewfoe) Foerster, who created superb covers and interior illustrations for the book, and not only captured but enhanced my original vision considerably. There will not only be books, but also (super cool) T-shirts available, very soon!

Of course we’ve all had a big reset, and my first priority remains caregiver – but this doesn’t mean I can’t get Large Ess Small Press up to full speed once again, with a brand new parallel track for better reach and distribution.

I did a deep dive into the state of the market, including the A-beast that swallowed the book trade, but while I still intend to tilt in that direction eventually, it remains premature. To get the enormous advantage of free shipping for members, you have to push stock at multiple distribution sites and then pay for storage on an ongoing basis. You even have to pay extra if your stock moves slowly, or else pay them again to throw it away!

I don’t mean to sound like a rank amateur, even as a small scale entrepreneur I understand the reasons for each of those parameters and requirements, and further appreciate that access to such a huge market is a major lever, not available to previous generations – but the muscle you need to make use of that lever is ready capital for inventories and even more importantly, for timely marketing. Shelf-speed is everything.

On the other end of the market, I have long resisted a newer approach which has finally overwhelmed me with good reasons. Ebooks! I resisted them for years, because I truly adore books as physical objects, and I work hard to make mine pleasing in terms of graphics and design, as well as for the memorable scenes and ideas contained within.

But Ebooks allow me to reach out directly and across the world with equal (that is, zero) encumbrance or impediment. I don’t have to worry about shipping charges or wait times (took more than two months to get books to England – twice!), and I can get word of mouth building E-organically.

The upshot? – I am in the process of reworking all of my books – my poetry collection “Night Song for Cigar-Box Banjo“, my book about learning, creativity and gratitude, “Structural Happiness“, my two volume collection of stories about Toronto and Friendship “The Kind of Friend You Need” and    “At a Crazy Time Like This” and of course the much anticipated “Stymie and Toffel” so I will be able to offer the entire catalog to everyone in both trade format physical, and similarly lovely and enjoyable Electronic versions.

This year I will not only be ready for Christmas season early, I’ll be able to deliver a last-minute E-present on time, right up until Christmas eve!

This is going to be serious fun (and work). Full speed ahead!
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Challenging Evolution

Top photo – One part Osiris, two parts Horus

Hello my friends, time for another podcast. This time some ideas about how we all got here, to this rather fraught moment. By ‘we’ I often mean western civilization in general, but I also have some unusual and specific reality to offer today. As part of trying to overcome all forms of tribalism – which indeed can be political, racial, cultural, class-based, or of course national, I have some things to share with my American friends today that Canadians don’t often admit in broader discussions about culture or politics. I also have some unusual treats that conservatives haven’t heard from lefties, and Christians haven’t heard from from atheists. Of course my leftie friends already know I am relentlessly curious and simply don’t do group-think or group cruelty. Which is why some of them find me heartening or nostalgic, and some rather frustrating.

“Unmutual” in the wonderful precision-surreality language of “the prisoner.” ;o)

As far as I can tell, for respect to work, the capability for it must be demonstrated and proven, and it must be offered in genuine spirit. It simply cannot be demanded, or exist one-sidedly.

Call me crazy, but I still think there is a way for regular working class people to get over all the false division and overturn the irresponsible creeps who are running us over a cliff. It isn’t really about left or right, the split is between thinking mostly about people, or mostly about institutions and technologies. The same inhuman trends scare many on the left and right, they just view the causes and best responses very differently, and tend to react with hostility to each other’s terms, even when they are discussing the very same underlying problems.

I still mean to do a show about transcendence and enlightenment – secular and religious, but this episode is an important foundation for that. We talk about the history of the last few generations as if we have learned all of the lessons we should have. Some even say there is nothing of value we can learn from those with attitudes that now seem immoral, by the light of our sophisticated modern standards. But guess what – the latest greatest best we can do will also seem utterly barbaric one day. That is simply the nature of reality and history. And every one of our risks and errors will also be worth learning from.

Best to be honest.

 

 

 

I know too many people who are hurting themselves with emotional extremes over tribalism these days. Being cut off from the world of simple pleasures and stimulus thanks to covid is a big part of the stress, no doubt – but we have also been exhorted toward extremes, and once you step into a position where you take pride in your hostility, it is incredibly hard to step down again – for men especially – without feeling as if you have chickened-out or suffered a defeat. Pride is weird and deeply irrational stuff, and intellectuals are especially good at mistaking ideas for territory, and then getting all messy and snarly in a territory marking contest.

Jocks hassle geeks, and geeks make fun of the brainlessness of sports – but jocks get catharsis – a way to exercise (and exorcise) their excess passion, that we geeks can only dream about. Not so easy to say who is better at sublimating unreason, concentrating and thinking clearly. Maybe whacking moving things with a big stick is an ideal boost for our intellect, from way back.

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Now here’s a special treat to lift the hearts of anyone feeling hopeless about the potential for cooperation. Cornell West is simply one of my favourite human beings, and also the Christian pastor who speaks most directly to the heart of the faith which seems self-evident to me, despite my lifelong atheism.

In this conversation he’s talking to the also brilliant conservative economist Glen Lowry. They disagree about many of the most fundamental things, and they don’t ever pretend otherwise – but instead of name calling or rancour, they confide deeply in one another, and together find a profound common line of respect and understanding. This is brilliantly hopeful stuff.

 

Them’s Fightin’ Words

What is a person? What is a statement, a critique, an opinion? What is the value of a very loud and egotistical person screaming about a petty injustice? What is the weight of a modest and self-effacing person’s quiet sober testimony? What is a theory, what is proof? Most of all – what sort of ideas are so powerful and fantastic that they are worth hurting real individual people over?

There was a time, many decades ago now, when I would have confidently said the left understood that extreme thinking was always unfair – because it pretended there was just one single model of human goodness, and all other approaches were heresies, even where well intended – or proven effective. It was also commonly understood that such extreme judgement orthodoxies were unkind, because by narrowing the good to one single model, mediated by a power hierarchy or priesthood, all sorts of bullying and social injustice could be created, and then frozen in place forever. Opportunities awarded only on the basis of team, instead of character and contribution.

Tragically, there is no longer any appetite on the left to stand up for basic respect. The more closely popular thought takes on the persecuting tone of the Spanish Inquisition, probing endlessly for sin, the more the old traditional leftist allies, the hedonists, shake their heads and walk away, and the free spirits too – for reasons of even deeper principle. The left used to be the fun and funny side, welcoming everyone – with a huge advantage in creativity and expression – mostly because artistic work does a rough personality sort on the way in. Imaginators tend not to be overly persnickety.

The thing is – the fundamental philosophies and ideas of the left are suffering now, because they are being associated with people who think the act of criticizing others, makes them more virtuous – another behaviour the left used to ridicule widely. Being good makes you good, being nice makes you nice. Finding fault with other humans and then attacking them for it – mostly makes you crazy.

Should it seem unclear to anyone – I am still a firm believer in ending war, in education dignity and health care for everyone, in breaking up the monopolies which stifle the benefits of genuine market activity, and also in restraining government from any invasive control which is not clearly helpful.

I don’t think business or government are sacred – they are both structures of human organization – the idea is to use each sensibly, for what it can do well – and to end the gravy train of ridiculous subsidies which monopolist corporations have been extracting from citizens for the last century or so. We keep criticizing our politics as if it is what it says it is – perhaps we should really try it just for once – without all the monopolist scams and corruption gumming up the works – before we throw up our hands, declare western civilization a lost cause and burn the whole thing down.

I don’t believe all men are evil, or all white people are evil – and I don’t think that stuff just because I am a white man. People are even more different than ideas – we’ve all noticed and know this. The labels which so many now pretend describe us most importantly, tell me absolutely nothing of any use whatsoever. I mean literally zero, I would know a lot more about a person with a list of their top five favourite books movies and pieces of music. Birth-nation? Colour? Social Class? That’s the external vehicle their spirit is riding around in – but honestly, I’ve always thought cars were super boring – what I’m interested in is the driver.

This is not to say that people don’t ever experience things as groups – they most certainly do – but that isn’t the whole of the story for anyone, and our differences in that category don’t put us miles apart separated by concrete, we’ve been living right next door for years, and the walls are paper.

Long past time for us to put down these high-noon megaphones and begin to whisper-share our midnight dreams instead.

The Best Chance I Ever Took

I was seventeen years old when I first met Catherine and her sister through a friend from my work. I was in my full club kid phase, and also working in a super-straight and strict corporate office as the “administrative services clerk” (mailroom boy), my friend was temping on the switchboard. During the week in daylight, I might be found in a Sally Ann’s suit and beatleboots, with my chin-length bangs brushed back and secured with vast volumes of hairspray – at night I was more often wearing vintage orchestral tails, combat boots and full makeup – the eighties were a wacky time, truly.

Catherine was then (and she was always, as her early friends will attest) effortlessly cool – amazingly beautiful too. But she was also very quiet, and generally travelled in a pair with her more forward sister. I was smitten at first sight, Catherine somewhat less so, but we did become friends, and a few months later I finally had a chance to slip her a note, when her sister was in the bathroom. She still has the note today, and though I was incredibly nervous, she agreed that it would be nice to get together just the two of us sometime.

Being broke kids, we took a long walk down to the Bathurst Street bridge over the old CN rail lines, long before the wall of condos (back then It was St Mary’s cement and the old Molson’s plant, in that direction), so we could have a perfect view of the Ontario Place fireworks display for Victoria day, without being caught in a crowd. That was thirty eight years ago tonight – and we have always celebrated this first date anniversary as well as our wedding anniversary every year – Catherine’s birthday is the day after, and old Victoria still gets her dues in the form of fireworks as well – so all in all we tend to get a lovely long weekend out of the many excuses for decadence and celebration.

I did a chapter reading a few years ago about the very first song I wrote for Catherine, but I never posted the music video I made for it, except at the end of that reading. Here it is on its own. Simple-simple, but the heart holds up rather nicely, considering the primitive means! ;o)

And yes, I still remember the exact pillar we were hiding behind at Osgoode station (to avoid the evil eye of the ticket collector, who semed to consider punky teens a contaminant to his transit temple) when we had our first kiss, just as recorded in the song – and I vividly remember FLYING home!

This doesn’t get said enough. Love is everything, and is worth everything – a unique source of strength, purpose, meaning, duty and growth. I’m not saying this to hurt the feelings of people who prefer to be single – not at all. There are lots of excellent ways to live a life.

But young people nowadays hear a lot of confusing and cynical messages – and many who have yearning hearts are also plagued by great uncertainty.

With dating apps especially, it can be tempting to see other people as commodities, and things like romance and sex as simple appetites, without any special emotional weight. Why bother with attachment compromise and commitment? Why not just get what you need at the time and go?
Because really being a pair – going all-in together on a life and meaning it, is one of the most amazing adventures a human being can ever take – and sharing the wobbly arc of life brings us to every true hope fear joy and promise which a life might contain.

Love love, respect it, nurture it carefully, and build your capacity for honour and dedication, delight will surely follow, such as to make every obstacle seem smaller, and every reverse less deep or lasting. Work at love, feed it with intention and attention.

And if love has hurt you and left you wondering if it is worth the risk – don’t give up hope – yes it is – and yes you can still find and share it.

I know I go on about politics, history and philosophy a lot, but I also try to talk about how we as individuals think and live. When I speak up against theories which justify general outrage against a group which may not deserve it, I am most sharply pained by the thought of all the friendships creative alliances and romances which are sabotaged before they can even start, by such brick wall bigoted brutalist thinking.

Humans find ways – humans together find richer lives – humans with love, trust and respect can do absolutely anything. Seriously folks, I don’t oppose hateful divisive rhetoric for sport or ego – but because I (will always) stand up for LOVE itself.

No one better in this world than my Catherine.

No greater pleasure or purpose in my life than simply being her (crazy) man.
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